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Trusted Research Environment service for England

NHS Digital’s Trusted Research Environment (TRE) service for England provides approved researchers with access to essential linked, de-identified health data to quickly answer COVID-19 related research questions.

The TRE service provides researchers with support on data access requests, provision of data using our secure data platform the Data Processing Service (DPS) and help with analysis work. Approved research projects will help to guide national decision making and recommend potential interventions to reduce the severity of COVID-19 outcomes.

We are delivering the TRE service in partnership with Health Data Research UK (HDR UK).  Our shared objective is to provide rapid, safe and trustworthy access to data in a transparent way that accelerates the pace of quality research, playing a leading role in the UK’s COVID-19 response.

We are working with our partners to prioritise and streamline data requests to answer the most important health research questions, that will improve the understanding and treatment of COVID-19.

Our aim is to support the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) in rapidly answering research questions to guide national (and international) decision making.

A process has been established with HDRUK to streamline and prioritise the most important COVID-19 related research questions relevant for SAGE, policy makers and the NHS.

The process:

  • assesses the data request suitability
  • streamlines prioritisation of the most important health data research questions
  • signposts to the Trusted Research Environments (TREs), which have been established.


flow diagram of the Trusted data research process

A number of data sets are currently in development to support COVID-19 related research. The list of all data sets available can be found on our Data Access Request Service (DARS) webpage.  

We will evaluate the requests we are responsible for, based on purpose, legal basis, cyber security and other considerations set out in our transparency notice

We may seek advice from the Independent Group Advising on the Release of Data (IGARD) that is now meeting twice a week to support the increase in pace of the COVID-19 response.

As part of our governance process we use the ‘Five Safes’ framework whereby we ensure that any data access request considers the level of data anonymisation, the likely users, the scope for training, the environment through which data are accessed, and the statistical outputs derived from data use in terms of these five principles: 

  • Safe projects Is this use of the data appropriate?
  • Safe people Can the users be trusted to use it in an appropriate manner?
  • Safe settings Does the access facility limit unauthorised use?
  • Safe data Is there a disclosure risk in the data itself?
  • Safe outputs Are the statistical results non-disclosive?

Researchers will only gain access to the data they are permitted to see and all requests fulfilled by NHS Digital are published on the Data Release Register

The TRE service is underpinned by our secure data platform, DPS, which meets the ‘safe settings’ principle of the Five Safes' framework.  

DPS uses advanced processing to match and de-identify person level records for improved data linkage. This provides a secure and more complete set of data to support research.

  • The Master Person Service (MPS) verifies demographic information contained in a person’s health and care records and matches it to their unique NHS number to confirm their identity.  MPS uses a four-stage algorithm to provide a single best result for each record against the Personal Demographics Service (PDS).
  • De-identification’ protects people’s data and enables safe linkage across data sources. This enriches analysis by providing a more complete picture of health and care data. 

The platform also includes a secure, remote  Data Access Environment (DAE), which hosts some of the world’s leading analytics tools. The suite is designed to support all analysis, reporting and publication requirements, whilst providing powerful options to deliver world class data visualisation and analysis.

Last edited: 18 June 2020 4:19 pm