The new £2 million joint funding call to enhance understanding of COVID-19 through the application of new statistical, data science and advanced analytics approaches forms part of Data and Connectivity programme, one of the six National Core Studies (NCS) into COVID-19.

NCS was established in June 2020 to respond to the most critical research questions into COVID-19 to inform policy making. Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and led by Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) in partnership with the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Data and Connectivity is the “cross-cutting” study that makes UK-wide health and administrative data available to support and accelerate the research across the five other studies, by enabling streamlined data access and analysis.

The objective of this funding call is to amplify the impact of the Data and Connectivity study by supporting research projects and analyses that create new knowledge and insights to inform the national COVID-19 response, policy, and future pandemic preparedness by:

  • Utilising the data infrastructure and capabilities that have been assembled by the study
  • Using the Trusted Research Environment (TRE) to apply novel analytical, statistical and mathematical modelling and machine learning expertise
  • Enhancing the data assets being made available, for example by introducing new datasets, linkages, improvements or tools, that can then also be made accessible for other researchers to use.

The priority areas and themes for this call have been guided by the Data and Connectivity Public Advisory Group. The call is seeking to support policy-relevant COVID-19 research projects that augment and enhance the work of the National Core Studies; and projects that have direct policy relevance and a commitment to involving patients and the public in the full lifecycle of their research in a meaningful way.

In line with these objectives, projects that will be prioritised are those that seek to utilise multiple datasets currently linked and available in TREs to conduct analyses, including:

  • Viral variant summary and genomic sequencing data from COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK)
  • Linked outbreak-relevant data from clinical records, research studies and audit from key initiatives (e.g., CO-CIN)
  • The linked national electronic health record data asset of over 55M people in England (BHF Data Science Centre)
  • The linked COVID vaccination data including vaccine status and adverse events across the UK
  • The linked Public Health Research dataset, including census, mortality, hospital episode statistics and primary care data

The assessment panel to determine the chosen research projects for this call will include two lay members.

Andrew Morris, Director, Health Data Research UK and Lead for Data and Connectivity:

“The projects supported by this exciting funding call will enable insights that continue to improve our understanding of COVID-19 and therefore inform how we can best support patients in the next phase of the pandemic response. Working in partnership with ONS and The Alan Turing Institute provides a further demonstration of how our collaboration is driving innovation and that, together, we will deliver even greater positive impact to society through the application of health data science”.

Professor Sir Adrian Smith, Institute Director and Chief Executive, The Alan Turing Institute

“This call builds on the strength of the existing partnership between Turing, ONS and HDR UK, which combines expertise in advanced analytics, with data collection and curation in and beyond the health domain. We’re delighted to support progression of the National Core Studies and its success to date.”

Call specification

More information on this funding call, including the full call specification containing detailed criteria and eligibility is available on the Health Data Research UK website.

Data availability and access (webinar 10:00 BST, Monday 6 September 2021)

Investigators interested in finding out more about data availability and access are invited to register for and attend the dedicated webinar on Monday 6 September 2021. Investigators interested in making an application are encouraged to review the datasets available and where possible make data access requests in advance.

NB As part of its partnership with NHS Digital creating the linked national electronic health record data asset of over 55m people in England, access requests for datasets currently held by NHS Digital will be processed by the British Heart Foundation Data Science Centre (the joint venture between BHF and HDR UK).


03 September 2021 Funding call launched
6 September 2021 (10:00 BST) Webinar for applicants on data availability and access
22 September 2021 (17:00 BST) Clarification questions from potential applicants submitted
01 October 2021 (17:00 BST) Applications submitted
w/c 18th October 2021 Successful applications announced
End October 2021 Projects commence
30 September 2022 Projects complete

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