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NHS England to extend use of OpenSAFELY research platform


Mark Say Managing Editor

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NHS England has announced an expansion in the use of the research platform used to develop Covid-19 treatments to support efforts to control other major diseases.

It said OpenSAFELY – developed with the Bennett Institute for Applied Data Science at the University of Oxford – will be tested for use in a wider range of research, based on feedback from academic researchers, medical professionals and patients.

The platform has been used in over 150 research projects linked to Covid-19 treatments linked to 22 organisations and will be open to new research applicants “as soon as possible in 2024” NHS England said.

This builds on a wider programme outlined in the Government’s Data Saves Lives strategy to improve healthcare using data.

Valuable resource

NHS national medical director for transformation Dr Vin Diwakar said: “The data held by the NHS is globally unique and, as we saw during the pandemic, this approach enables researchers to benefit from that valuable resource, whilst keeping the data secure, safe and private.

“Expanding this service will unlock the power of patient data to help drive life-saving treatment breakthroughs to help people with a range of conditions and illnesses.”

OpenSAFELY is designed to keep patient data confidential and secure, with the de-identified data not leaving it at any stage during a research project.

Researchers write the code for their analyses without directly accessing the data, and their queries are submitted for automatic analysis against patient records inside a secure setting. Only anonymised results are released, following output checks.

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