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Part of NHS Digital Annual Report and Accounts 2019 to 2020

What we did in 2019-20: Data Services

We collect data from almost every provider of health and care in the country and process these into more than 200 national data sets. We produce about 300 open-data statistical publications a year that play a crucial role in shaping debate and forming policy and practice in our healthcare system.

Image of a dashboard viewed on a tablet device with hands navigating data presentationNew interfaces are making it easier to use our data

In September 2019, we published an indicator of death rates in people with learning disabilities – showing that they were roughly four times more likely to die between 2015-18 than the wider population.

In the same month, we published vaccination statistics showing a fall in routine childhood vaccinations – sparking a national debate about the idea of compulsory vaccinations.

And in December 2019, as part of the Health Survey for England, we published a chapter on the nation’s gambling, revealing, for example, that in 2018 as many as 6% of men identified as ‘problem’ or ‘at-risk’ gamblers.

Our data collections power hundreds of research projects and inform how the health and care system’s resources are used. They add up to a concentration of health and care data of unrivalled quality, breadth and comprehensiveness and our mission is to unlock the full potential of this information while reducing the burdens of collection for health and care organisations.

Our new Data Processing Services platform, introduced in May 2019, features a new way for NHS organisations to send data to us: the Strategic Data Collection Service in the cloud (SDCS Cloud). Instead of requiring smartcard authentication, providers can send submissions over the internet, using secure, two-factor authentication. Our Mental Health Services Data Set was one of the first two data collections to use SDCS Cloud and saw submissions grow; by 50% between April 2019 and March 2020. Many mental health providers don’t have smartcard access and by making it internet-facing we make it much easier for them to contribute.

The Master Person Service uses a four-stage algorithm to securely match data by demographics and unique NHS numbers, allowing data to be linked at the patient level and therefore breaking down barriers between national data sets. This cuts burdens by making it unnecessary to provide the same information several times for different collections. It also releases the huge potential of linked data to support medical research, system planning and innovation. In parallel, we have implemented a de-identification solution that removes identifiable information systematically and automatically from data – and we continue to ensure that data is only linked when we are legally required and empowered to do so.

Our Data Access Environment, also introduced in May 2019, provides a secure, online portal for specifically authorised users to work with our data. Only users who have proved a legal basis can access it and they only access the information they have been authorised to see. However, within the portal, researchers get a much more capable and flexible service, including remote access and a suite of analysis and visualisation tools. Because it is cloud-based, the platform allows users to adjust the computing power available to them, turning up the dial when dealing with advanced queries of large data sets. In 2019-20, we gave government and local authority public health teams access to non-sensitive Hospital Episode Statistics data through the Data Access Environment. We will be rolling out the service to other data sets in the coming year.

We are working with the University of Oxford, Microsoft and IBM to create a new service to transform the assessment of clinical trial feasibility in the UK, called NHS DigiTrials. It helps researchers quickly and accurately gather information about possible trial cohorts and will in the future support patient enrolment and communication. Previously, researchers had to gather responses from dozens or hundreds of trusts. NHS DigiTrials allows them to use data held in our central systems to identify suitable participants and ask them whether they want to participate. Launched in September 2019 and supported by the National Institute for Healthcare Research and the Association of Medical Research Charities, it makes the UK a more attractive place to conduct trials, opens new avenues for research and, ultimately, will improve treatment and care.

NHS DigiTrials will help patients across the length and breadth of England participate in clinical trials. We hope this will see more people gain faster access to new treatments.

Last edited: 23 November 2021 12:37 pm