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Secure Data Environment service

The NHS England Secure Data Environment (SDE) service gives approved researchers access to de-identified data from national health settings, to deliver the answers to vital health related questions.

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The NHS England SDE is a data and research analysis platform, which is being built to uphold the highest standards of privacy and security of NHS health and social care data when used for research and analysis.

Only approved users, with approved projects, are allowed to access and analyse data and only approved outputs can leave the environment. 

Transition from data sharing to data access

The Data Saves Lives Strategy sets out a commitment for the implementation of the NHS England SDE the default way to access NHS health and social care data for research and development. The NHS England SDE will be a key platform to support the NHS deliver on these commitments. It will also meet the requirements set out in the UK’s Life Sciences Vision and a number of recommendations in the Goldacre review.

All of these platforms will need to comply with the Department for Health and Social Care’s published Secure Data Environment guidelines.

Data for research and development investments

Funding announced in March 2022 as part of the NHS England Data for Research and Development Programme is enabling NHS Digital to accelerate the work that was already underway to evolve the Trusted Research Environment service for England created during COVID-19.

It is a first step on our journey to deliver a more robust, flexible and scalable end to end service for researchers, analysts and planners across the health and care ecosystem in the UK.

Default access for research data

The NHS England SDE will become the default platform for researchers studying diseases and conditions that affect the population.

Researchers must apply for access to the NHS England SDE through the Data Access Request Service (DARS) where the appropriate legal basis and purpose for the data is rigorously scrutinised. Access is granted only to those who meet the necessary criteria and have a legitimate need to access the data. Once approved, users gain secure access to health and care data in line with the Five Safes framework to ensure researchers access and use the data sets in a secure and responsible way.

A secure platform

Approved researchers only gain access to the data they are approved to see, and this data is de-identified and so does not contain personal information such as names and addresses or NHS numbers.

This centralised platform facilitates collaboration among authorised researchers and analysts to accelerate the pace of research and advance our understanding of various diseases and conditions.

We provide approved researchers with a safe output service that is robust, effective and transparent to third-party audit. We assess each request using NHS Digital’s Safe Output Service disclosure control rules to protect against the release of potentially identifiable 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 and your data is kept safe and secure.

NHS England’s Secure Data Environment platform is in Beta.

Working in the 'safe setting' - NHS England's Secure Data Environment

Authorised researchers access the NHS England SDE through a seamless virtual desktop experience, which currently uses analytical and collaborative tools including:

  • Databricks - a collaborative analytics platform that supports SQL and Python languages for the analysis of big data in the cloud
  • RStudio - a data analysis tool for R, a programming language for statistical computing and graphics
  • Gitlab - a code management and code version control tool that provides users with a secure, cloud-based repository to store and back-up versions of code when using Databricks and RStudio

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 NHS Digital’s Safe Output Service disclosure control rules before exports are approved.

Governance and transparency

NHS Digital routinely seek 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 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 you can visit the Your NHS data matters patient site for information about how the NHS can use and share patient data and the choices patients can make.

Data available via the NHS England SDE service

The full list of data sets available to researchers can be found in our data set catalogue. These may be available through the NHS England SDE, as an extract or through the DigiTrials Service. We are continuously adding new data sets to the NHS England SDE as we move through Beta.

Bring data into the SDE

Researchers can import their own reference data into NHS England’s National Secure Data Environment. Reference data is data which may be used to classify, sort or better interpret data records. Typically, reference data is static or slowly changing over time. It does not include individual patient level data, notably personally identifiable data (PID). This is a significant step towards enabling researchers to link SDE data in the environment, and we will continue to develop this capability over time.

Synthetic data

We are in the early stages of piloting synthetic Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) data in an NHS England SDE demo environment to see if this satisfies specific research and development needs. Once we have defined the offering, we will publish more information on this page.

How do users request access to data via the NHS England SDE service

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

Express your interest

If you would like to know more about the NHS England SDE, please complete the expressions of interest form so we have a clear understanding of your requirements.

We will securely hold your details and contact you with future updates on the service, including new features soon to be deployed.

Please also check this website for updates.

Commercial terms

The NHS England SDE operates on a not-for-profit basis with some costs centrally funded by NHS England’s Data for Research and Development Programme. NHS England has developed a contract for the NHS England SDE while in the beta phase. The contract sets out, clearly, the obligations and rights of those using the service.

To access the NHS England SDE you will require:

  • a valid Data Sharing Framework Contract
  • an approved data sharing agreement - see current DARS charges
  • a signed NHS England SDE contract.

We use a cost recovery model to calculate the charge to assess the NHS England SDE.

This charge includes:

  • one-off NHS England SDE set-up and onboarding charge
  • NHS England SDE service charges that cover the third-party licences and running of the service
  • any additional upgrades

Pricing in the NHS England SDE will be subject to clear terms and conditions, issued to you as part of the application process. If you would like to discuss your requirements with the team please complete an expressions of interest form.

Commercial partnerships

At present, NHS England does not require procurement activity for the NHS England SDE service as we use a combination of open-source software and existing contracts for delivery. If new requirements arise that are subject to procurement activity, our engagement with the market will be judged on a case by case basis.

For engagement and procurement opportunities within the NHS and public sector, please visit Contracts Finder or Find a Tender Service on

Please refrain from contacting our team directly about opportunities to work with you and use the channels above so not to interrupt our workflows.

Contact us

If you have enquiries about the NHS England SDE service, contact [email protected].

Further information

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.

internal Artificial data pilot

Artificial data sets provide users with large volumes of data that share some of the characteristics of real data while protecting patient confidentiality. They are designed to model the structure of real data but are completely artificial – they do not contain any actual patient records.

Last edited: 28 July 2023 3:47 pm