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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 approved researchers from trusted organisations with timely and secure access to health and care data. Researchers are given access to their approved data (in accordance with their Data Sharing Agreements), enabling them to collaborate, link data, share code and results within the same research projects.

The service provides a secure data platform with the analytical and statistical tools to support researchers in conducting their work. Their findings can then be exported safely, ensuring the formats and analyses are approved and sent to authorised users.

We are developing the service based on user feedback to provide a flexible and scalable solution that supports all our users’ needs in a safe and secure way. The service is currently being used to help guide national decision making and recommend potential interventions to reduce the severity of COVID-19 outcomes.

Governance and transparency

As part of our TRE process, NHS Digital routinely seeks advice from the Independent Group Advising on the Release of Data (IGARD) to ensure that the highest standards of data stewardship and governance are upheld.

Researchers will only gain access to the data they are permitted to see, and all approved data flows are published on the Data Release Register.

Our transparency notice details our legal basis for processing personal data in the course of this work.

If you are a member of the public and would like further information about how the NHS can use and share patient data and the choices patients can make, please visit the Your NHS data matters patient site.

The TRE service in England uses the five safes framework for safe use of secure data.

We provide researchers with:

  • a transparent and secure access management process to make decisions on applications to bring data, tools and code into the environment. This transparency delivers assurance to patients and the public that any information inputs are safe and assessed at the point of entering the environment
  • a Safe Output Service to our service users that is robust, effective and transparent to third-party audit. We assess each request using NHS Digital’s Disclosure Control Rules in accordance with the Safe Output Policy where the output is analysis results developed using personal, sensitive and confidential data

We carry out independent audits and where necessary post audit reviews to check that our customers are meeting the obligations in their Data Sharing Framework Contracts and Data Sharing Agreements. This helps to ensure that organisations abide by the terms and conditions set by NHS Digital and data is kept safe and secure. 

What data is available via the TRE service

A number of data sets are currently available via the TRE service and several others are in development, principally to support COVID-19 related research in the TRE service including those made available through the Data and Connectivity National Core Study

The full list of all data sets available can be found on our Data Access Request Service (DARS) webpage.

Researchers can only access data sets approved under their specific Data Sharing Agreement (DSA) project. They are then provided with their account details and instructions on how to access the secure platform within the TRE service. 

The secure platform puts virtual walls around data under their DSA, to ensure that users can only access data for which they have been approved and cannot download patient-level data which might allow them to carry out unapproved analysis.

All data is de-identified and so does not contain personal information such as names and addresses or NHS Numbers. 

How do users request access to data via the TRE service

All projects requiring access to the TRE service will first have to apply for their data through the Data Access Request Service

Working in the 'safe setting' - NHS Digital's Data Platform

TRE service users will be given access to our new Data Platform which currently hosts powerful tools analysis and interrogation tools such as Databricks and RStudio:

  • Databricks is a collaborative analytics platform that supports SQL and Python languages for the analysis of big data in the cloud
  • RStudio is a data analysis environment for R, a programming language for statistical computing and graphics

Researchers with the same data sharing agreement can work collaboratively with their colleagues in shared project folders, using their preferred tool. The final intended output is checked for compliance with the five safes before exports are approved. 

Our TRE customers and their research

We have worked in partnership with Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) and our first client to use the service, the British Heart Foundation Data Science Centre (BHF DSC) to create a powerful environment, capable of answering complex research questions.

Using an agile, collaborative approach, the TRE service is delivering the tools and data needed to support a team of researchers from UK universities and other research organisations to perform analyses on a variety of linked data sources.

The BHF team is currently researching the impact and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on cardiovascular diseases in terms of diagnosis, management and patient outcomes.

Initial work has produced two studies which have been published in The Lancet.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the detection and management of colorectal cancer in England: a population-based study - The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology

COVID-19 pandemic and admission rates for and management of acute coronary syndromes in England - The Lancet

We have new customers who will shortly be joining the TRE service to perform similar research and analysis on Covid-related research in areas such as Cancer.

Further information

  1. external

    The Health Data Research UK Innovation Gateway

    The Health Data Research UK Innovation Gateway provides an alternative route to the data sets held in the TRE service as well as many additional UK health research data sets, including metadata on those data sets and advanced research tools.

  2. internal

    Data Access Request Service (DARS)

    The Data Access Request Service (DARS) can offer clinicians, researchers and commissioners the data required to help improve NHS services. We handle applications, process data and provide access to specific sets of data when requests are approved.

  3. external
Last edited: 24 February 2021 3:15 pm