NHS England - Transformation Directorate

Work in progress

How will Secure Data Environments be delivered?

Some parts of the NHS are already using Secure Data Environments to a high standard. However, it will take time and money to move to a system where Secure Data Environments are the default way to access NHS data. To support this change, the NHS will continue to invest in building and updating its technology and policies.

The Data for Research & Development (R&D) Programme is making England-wide investments in Secure Data Environments and has established the NHS Research Secure Data Environment Network. Membership of the network includes:

  • The NHS England Secure Data Environment service is supporting the health and social care research of approved organisations across industry, while the platform is in beta.
  • 11 Sub National NHS-led Secure Data Environment teams, collectively covering the whole of England. They bring together Integrated Care Boards with local universities and industry partners to build on existing collaborations and successful research partnerships. These Sub National SDEs cover populations of 5 million people on average and ensure life-saving research stays connected to local communities and clinical teams. Following a competitive process, funding was awarded in December 2022 to teams representing: East of England, East Midlands, Great Western, Kent, Medway and Sussex, London, North East and North Cumbria, North West, Thames Valley and Surrey, Wessex, West Midlands, and Yorkshire & Humber.

The NHS Research Secure Data Environment Network connects the teams developing the national and Sub National SDEs, to ensure consistent standards for data security and data access, as well as interoperability between SDEs. We will continue to invest in the network as it becomes the default route for rapid access to research-ready data.

Partnership with Understanding Patient Data

The Data for R&D Programme is underpinned by public and patient involvement, in line with the priority set out in the Data Saves Lives strategy to improve trust in the health and care system’s use of data. Our work includes being a co-funder of Understanding Patient Data, whose focus is on research, advocacy and communication to make the way patient data is used more trustworthy.

You can read more about our work together in a blog by Nicola Hamilton, Head of Understanding Patient Data.

Find out more

The Data for R&D Programme also funds the NHS DigiTrials service, which supports data-driven clinical trials. You can read more about this service here.

You can read more about the Data for R&D Programme and the announcement in December 2022 of funding for Sub National Secure Data Environments for research. For more information please email the team at data.research@nhs.net.

What are the next steps?

Since the publication of the Secure Data Environment Policy Guidelines (September 2022), we have continued to consult with a wide range of stakeholders on the best way to design and deliver NHS SDEs. One strategic decision this engagement has facilitated is to take a phased and incremental approach to delivering data access as default. This acknowledges the complexity and scale of the change, as well as the number of unknowns that need to be worked through before further strategic decisions are taken, while allowing us to learn from investments and practical delivery experience.

As part of this phased approach to delivery, we have now published a draft policy update (in consultation until 23 June 2023) to build upon our previously published guidelines. This update sets out key policy decisions made so far, and aims to provide clarity and detail to data controllers, data users and platform providers. Future policy updates will provide further detail as we continue to listen, iterate and co-develop data access policy.

As per our commitment in the data saves lives strategy, we will be engaging with the public and patients about our policy. We will also be engaging about the long-term accreditation of SDEs from summer 2023.

How can I get involved?

If you are interested in receiving more information about this, please email the policy team.