Greater Manchester will receive funding from NHS England to begin the development of a sub-national Secure Data Environment for Research & Development, as part of a collaborative across the North-West. SDEs are intended to enable NHS data to be safely and securely accessed by researchers for population health research.

In early 2022, the Centre for Improving Data Collaborations in NHS England announced significant funding for the development of SDEs for research and development in England. Health Innovation Manchester, on behalf of Greater Manchester Integrated Care, led a single North-West Expression of Interest alongside Cheshire & Merseyside ICS and Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS. The North-West Expression of Interest has been successful, and work is underway to commence the activity to make the regional SDE a reality.

Secure Data Environments (formerly known as “Trusted Research Environments”) are highly secure computing environments that provide remote access to health data for approved researchers to use in health and care research that can save and improve lives. SDEs put virtual walls around data to ensure that users can only access data for which they are approved and provide secure access to analytical and statistical tools for conducting research. The GM Care Record (GMCR) will be one of the datasets that can be analysed through the SDE.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, sharing of data into the GMCR accelerated significantly and was used to successfully deliver several research studies into the impact of COVID-19 on the Greater Manchester population by deploying a tactical “Trusted Research Environment”.

Since then, significant progress has been made to agree information governance arrangements across GM for the continued usage of this data for non-COVID purposes, including a single Joint Controller Agreement and pan-ICS Data Sharing Agreements signed by all data controllers. This has the potential for the SDE to answer deeper questions about the region’s health and care beyond the pandemic.

Bradley Quinn, Associate Director of Insight at Health Innovation Manchester, said:

“I’m incredibly excited to share the news about the funding secured for the North West SDE for Research and Development, a population of over 7m, across an entire NHS region. This is the start of something big, but also in many ways a continuation of the great work we have delivered, and will continue to, here in GM. We’re looking forward to working with our colleagues in Cheshire and Merseyside ICB and Lancashire and South Cumbria ICB to build a solution for collaboration across boundaries, and deliver high-impact R&D in the North”.

Claire Bloomfield, Deputy Director, Centre for Improving Data Collaboration at NHS England, said in a recent blog:

“ I’m thrilled to announce that, following foundational investment in 21/22, and a competitive process over this summer, we’ve awarded over £13.5 million funding that will support the development of an interoperable network of NHS-owned Sub National Secure Data Environments, with further investment planned over 23/24 and 24/25.

Sub-national SDEs for research will offer near-real-time, privacy-protecting, access to rich linked data spanning different types including imaging, pathology and genomics. They will operate at significant scale, covering around 5 million citizens each, whilst preserving connectivity to local communities and clinical teams”.

Work is underway in Greater Manchester to identify the “lighthouse” studies or use cases that will first make use of the SDE and prove its value to the GM health and care system. Further announcements will be made as these studies are identified and when the results of the studies are published. Permission for this use of patient information is also being sort through the NHS Health Research Authority’s Confidentiality Advisory Group.

Read more about the work in GM on SDEs in this blog from the project lead, Bradley Quinn.

Matt Hennessey, Chief Intelligence and Analytics Officer at Greater Manchester Integrated Care, and Bradley Quinn are speaking about how data is being used from the longitudinal record to accelerate innovation in Greater Manchester, including the development of the North-West SDE, at the HETT North event on 2nd March 2023.