NHS Digital is launching a new de-identification system to anonymise patient data for the purpose of sharing it across various health and care settings.

The organisation has signed a contract with privacy software company Privitar to deliver the technology, which is designed to prevent an individual’s identity from being connected to their patient data.

The de-identification (De-ID) process will enable NHS Digital to better protect identifiable information in cases where patient data is shared for research and planning purposes, to help deliver a better picture of how care services are delivered across the NHS.

While NHS Digital already employs means of de-identifying data across the NHS, the De-ID system provides a single means of doing so across the organisation’s entire estate.

A procurement notice for the system was put out in February this year.

Tom Denwood, NHS Digital’s executive director of data, insights and statistics, said: “The health and care landscape is rapidly changing, and we can improve individual patient care if our systems can deliver a complete picture of their health and care.

“So instead of each individual NHS team managing their own de-identification processes, De-ID provides an automated and standardised way of removing the identifying values in a patient record across all data collections, allowing data to be linked across different care settings.

“It’s not only more efficient; enabling us to safely produce useful data for research and analysis, but it’s also transparent, so we can improve tracking and auditing of how data is used across the system.”

London-based Privitar was chosen to deliver the software that will form the foundation of the De-ID system following a “rigorous tendering process,” according to NHS Digital.

The company does not handle or process any personal data as part of product offering.

Speaking to Digital Health News, CEO Jason du Preez said: “Our contract with the NHS gives us the opportunity to deploy our privacy engineering products in a large and complex healthcare environment. Data science has the potential to revolutionise healthcare but we need methods for effectively protecting and provisioning data access first.

“The new De-ID service will standardise data de-identified across the NHS, protecting patient privacy, enabling effective linkage and safely providing data for research and analysis.  We are very pleased to be working closely with NHS Digital to deliver this programme.”