A multi-million-pound data project to improve health care across the north of England has been unveiled, giving academics new access to health data.

The £20m Connected Health Cities was officially launched on Thursday and will allow academics and NHS England staff to conduct research on national data flows from NHS Digital and local data flows. There are four pilot CHCs: Cumbria and the north east, Greater Manchester, north west coast and Yorkshire and the Humber.

CHC has been running, under the radar, since January and will continue for three years.

John Ainsworth, director of CHC, said: “We are not creating any data warehouses here. We are taking the data we need, to do the analysis we need, and then the data is destroyed.”

Most cases will use anonymised data, and the programme is subjected to existing information governance laws, he said.

It is hoped CHC will generate insights such as a more targeted use of community based care, identifying at risk patients and cutting the inappropriate use of antibiotics.

Ainsworth stressed he wanted to learn from the failure of care.data by establishing a “civic partnership” to increase public awareness.

The CHCs will explore the idea of a data donation programme and will look to publish their findings on a citizen’s portal, he said.

Ainsworth added that the CHCs have future plans to explore the idea of a data donation programme. The intent would be to create a citizen’s portal where the public could sign up and donate data, and control which data could be used.

The citizen’s portal would also be where the CHCs would publish their findings.

This portal would also contain the necessary legal opt outs for local data flows, and is aimed to be live in autumn 2017, Ainsworth added. Other methods of engagement would include citizen’s juries and a social media campaign using #datasaveslives.

Each region will be focusing on two care pathways. In Greater Manchester. the focus will be primarily on anti-microbial prescribing and strokes. A secondary pathway is around community based wound care.

CHC is part of a wider project called Health North. It was commissioned by the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA), a health partnership that links leading university medical schools, NHS teaching hospitals and Academic Health Science Networks, and funded by the Department of Health.

CHC is part of a wider project called Health North. Former chancellor George Osborne announced that scheme in March 2015 to promote health innovation in the north of England through analysis of data on the effectiveness of different drugs, treatments and health pathways.

Ainsworth said the CHCs are “trying to bring NHS and academia together in a more consistent and coherent way”.

“What you find is there is an artificial barrier between service and research.”

Ian Greer, chair of the NHSA, said: “These first CHC pilots are just the start of ensuring that we improve the health as well as the wealth of the northern powerhouse.”

All the pathway projects have been selected, and data sharing agreements are expected to be completed by the end of year.

While Thursday saw the official launch of the project, the money was awarded in the March 2015 budget.

Some regions, such as Cumbria and the north east, have been active since March this year. The member institutions for this region are: Newcastle University, Durham University, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and AHSN for the North East and North Cumbria.

Nicola Blackwood, health and innovation minister, said: “This project could set an exciting precedent of working collaboratively across regions, with the potential to be replicated right across the country.”