The UK is in the unique position of having electronic health records for the whole population of over 65 million people, covering their entire lives, through the NHS. Combined with advances in genomics and other emerging technologies, there is an enormous opportunity for health data research to improve our understanding across many areas of human health and disease.

With renewed funding of £72.3 million for the next five years, HDR UK has an ambitious new strategy that will focus on empowering researchers, promoting partnerships and accelerating trustworthy data use. As an integral part of the strategy, five research driver programmes will test and improve trustworthy health data infrastructure for the wider benefit of the research community.

Each programme will focus on an area where data science has great potential to improve public health, prevent people from becoming unwell, and enhance patient care:

  • Big Data for Complex Disease will harness whole population, national linked health data to improve the understanding, prevention and early diagnosis of cancer, cardiovascular conditions and other complex diseases
  • Inflammation and Immunity seeks to better understand the epidemiology of allergic and respiratory conditions across the UK and identify opportunities to reduce inequalities in care
  • Molecules to Health Records will bring together information on genomics, other molecular traits, and electronic health records at scale
  • Medicines in Acute and Chronic Care aims to understand and transform the use of medicines for patients of all ages, especially those with complex care needs caused by multiple long-term conditions
  • Social and Environmental Determinants of Health will focus on developing national infrastructure and methods to connect different types of social and environmental data with health data to gain new insights about the wider determinants of health

All of the research driver programmes take advantage of the range of datasets available across the UK that are relevant to human health, collectively spanning discovery, prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment.

Professor Andrew Morris, Director of HDR UK, said: “The HDR UK team across the UK and our fantastic partners have already made significant progress in our mission to unite the UK’s health data to enable discoveries that improve people’s lives. We are now able to support and run analyses on over 65M people UK-wide. However, we are still in the foothills of where we need to be if we are to fully realise the transformative potential of health data research.

“The research driver programmes are at the heart of HDR UK’s strategy over the next five years. Each one is not only designed to accelerate the speed and scale of health data research to benefit patients and the public through informing clinical decision making and influencing health policy, but also to innovate new approaches to data infrastructure, technology, standards, public engagement and governance. These are all essential components of a trustworthy data ecosystem.”

Find out more about the HDR UK research driver programmes