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NHS Digital creates secure research environment for cancer data


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Data from NHS Digital has now been made available in a secure environment to enable researchers to understand the impact of Covid-19 on people affected by cancer.

It has been working with DATA-CAN, the UK’s Health Data Research Hub for Cancer, to provide secure access to cancer specific data curated by its National Disease Registration Service, alongside national population health datasets in the NHS Digital Trusted Research Environment (TRE).

TREs are secure spaces where authorised researchers can access the data they need for approved projects. The de-identified data is analysed in a secure environment without being downloaded, to provide safe and secure data for analysis and research.

The ambition is to look at how this information can help develop new services, tests and treatments and ultimately save lives.

NHS Digital said the partnership will provide researchers with timely data access to improve the understanding of the current impact of Covid-19 on the referral, diagnosis, treatment and outcomes of patients with cancer, and those who may become unwell in the future.

Game changer

Professor Geoff Hall, DATA-CAN’s clinical lead, professor of digital health and honorary consultant in medical oncology at the Leeds Cancer Centre, said: “As a cancer doctor with a specialist interest in health data research, utilising this national TRE allows us to better understand the impact that Coivd-19 has had on NHS cancer services.

“The same data, used effectively and responsibly and with the support of patients and the public, has the potential to drive research into new, more effective ways to diagnose cancer early and could support the development of new treatments to improve people’s lives.

“It is a really exciting development and has the potential to be a real game changer.”

NHS Digital's TRE has been supported by the Government’s recent pledge of up to £200 million to enable more secure and efficient access to NHS data through TREs and digital clinical trial services.

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