Original article 24th February, updated 8th April 2021:

For the first time, a new linked health data resource covering 54.4 million people – over 96% of the English population – is now available for researchers from across the UK to collaborate in NHS Digital’s secure research environment. This resource will enable vital research to take place into COVID-19 and cardiovascular disease, with the aim of improving treatments and care for patients.

This work has been led by the CVD-COVID-UK consortium in partnership with NHS Digital, and has been published today (8th April) in the BMJ. The new resource links health data from GP records, hospital data, death records, COVID-19 laboratory test data and data on medications dispensed from pharmacies, and is accessible to CVD-COVID-UK consortium researchers in NHS Digital’s Trusted Research Environment (TRE) Service for England.

The CVD-COVID-UK consortium is a collaborative group of more than 160 members across 40 institutions working to understand the relationship between COVID-19 and cardiovascular diseases. The consortium is managed by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Data Science Centre, led by Health Data Research UK.

The ability to link different types of health data from almost the entire population of England provides a more complete and accurate picture of the impact of COVID-19 on patients with diseases of the heart and circulation than has been possible before now. It will also provide the data to understand whether patients with COVID-19 are more likely to go on to develop diseases of the heart and circulation, such as heart attack and stroke.

This linked health data includes comprehensive information on key details such as sex, age and ethnicity. Looking at only one dataset in isolation (e.g. only GP data) provides a more limited picture. For example, linking GP and hospital data together provides information on ethnicity for 95% of the population, whereas looking at only GP data provides this information for less than 70%.

Prof Cathie Sudlow, Director of the BHF Data Science Centre said: “Because of our partnership with NHS Digital, researchers are now able to access health data at a scale that a year ago was hardly even imaginable. The combination of the data and the new Trusted Research Environment are allowing research teams across the UK to work together to answer questions about a very wide range of common and rare health conditions. This will help health professionals, patients, carers and health service planners make better decisions to benefit the health of the whole country, including people of all ages, ethnic groups, social backgrounds, and geographic locations.”

Access to health data in the TRE is only available to approved researchers, through a secure process that ensures researchers have access to the data they need, while protecting people’s privacy. The data made available for research are de-identified (i.e., removing a person’s name, address and exact date of birth) and pseudonymised (i.e., replacing a person’s unique NHS number with a non-identifying unique master key).

Michael Chapman, Director of Research and Clinical Trials at NHS Digital, said: “Research using data collected about NHS patients and services has played a vital role in the response to COVID-19. Granting researchers access to data within NHS Digital’s secure systems is accelerating research to understand this new disease and reduce its impact while maintaining the safety of patient data. We’re delighted to have worked with the BHF Data Science Centre to develop this service, which will soon benefit researchers working in other areas.”

  • To access the BMJ paper, click here.
  • To access the BMJ editorial, click here.
  • To access the BMJ lay commentary, click here.
  • To access the pre-print, click here.
  • For Information on the linked health data resource, click here.
  • For more information on NHS Digital’s Trusted Research Environment (TRE) Service for England, click here.
  • Researchers wishing to find out more about becoming a CVD-COVID-UK consortium member and accessing the NHS Digital TRE CVD data – please contact: bhfdsc@hdruk.ac.uk

About the BHF Data Science Centre:

  • The British Heart Foundation Data Science Centre is a partnership between Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) and the British Heart Foundation (BHF). We work closely with patients, the public, NHS organisations, researchers, and clinicians to promote the safe and ethical use of data for research into the causes, prevention and treatment of all diseases of the heart and circulation.
  • Our vision is to improve the public’s cardiovascular health through the power of large-scale data and advanced analytics across the UK. Funded by the BHF for an initial £10M over 5 years and embedded within HDR UK, the centre provides the leadership, co-ordination and engagement needed to deliver this vision, through building capability, capacity and infrastructure to drive excellence in data-enabled cardiovascular research.

Visit the BHF Data Science Centre website

bhfdsc@hdruk.ac.uk | @BHFDataScience

About NHS Digital:

NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner of the health and care system.  Our team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create, deliver and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend.  Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better.

Visit the NHS Digital website

media@nhsdigital.nhs.net | @NHSDigital  | 0300 30 33 888


Find out more about the CVD-COVID-UK consortium:

 


Visit the BHF Data Science Centre:

 


About the BHF Data Science Centre:

The British Heart Foundation Data Science Centre is a partnership between Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) and the British Heart Foundation (BHF). We work closely with patients, the public, NHS organisations, researchers, and clinicians to promote the safe and ethical use of data for research into the causes, prevention and treatment of all diseases of the heart and circulation.

Our vision is to improve the public’s cardiovascular health through the power of large-scale data and advanced analytics across the UK. Funded by the BHF for an initial £10M over 5 years and embedded within HDR UK, the centre provides the leadership, co-ordination and engagement needed to deliver this vision, through building capability, capacity and infrastructure to drive excellence in data-enabled cardiovascular research.

bhfdsc@hdruk.ac.uk  | @BHFDataScience


About NHS Digital:

NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner of the health and care system.  Our team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create, deliver and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend.  Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better.

https://digital.nhs.uk/ | @NHSDigital