NHS to launch data-sharing hubs with trial in Manchester

NHS cash injection

The government has poured millions of pounds into developing regional digital healthcare hubs across the UK, starting with a 3 million pilot in Manchester.

A set of digital innovation hubs will allow scientists to combine easy to access health data with real-world evidence from across the health service to create new diagnostic products and services. The aim is to also speed up drug development and give people faster access to more personalised treatments.

The 37.5 million initiative, led by Health Data Research UK (HDR-UK), will begin with a trial based in Manchester involving cardiac patients.

Around 1,000 patients with implanted pacemakers and defibrillators will have their health data analysed in real time to detect signs of deterioration earlier than usual.

"It is absolutely crucial that researchers are able to access the NHS's world-leading anonymised data so they can develop cutting-edge treatments and solutions to some of healthcare's biggest challenges," said health minister Nicola Blackwood.

"This will mean people can receive new medicines quicker and get more timely diagnoses which will ultimately save lives."

Ten new centres will comprise the digital innovation hubs, selected through a competition and announced by the end of 2019. These successful bids will be required to ensure they are responsibly accessing anonymised health data in a trustworthy and ethical way, by involving patients in the process.

The centres will make data accessible from a variety of disparate NHS organisations in one place, including the health service from all four home nations. The government says experts will be allowed to research factors behind many common diseases more efficiently, and identify data trends.

"We are excited about the tremendous opportunities that Digital Innovation Hub Programme brings to the future of health research and innovation in the UK," said HDR-UK's director professor Andrew Morris.

"Working closely with UK Research and Innovation, our focus in delivering these new centres of excellence is first and foremost on ensuring that patients reap the rewards and are reassured that all data are used ethically and responsibly."

This move brings the NHS one step closer towards realising its grand data-sharing ambitions and follows controversial plans announced in March to standardise patient information.

Not everyone is on board with the proposed plans, though. medConfidential's Phil Booth said they were "deeply concerning" when speaking with IT Pro, adding that it's possible for presumably 'anonymised' data to become connected with patient identities.

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.