New research centres connecting regional healthcare data with genetic and biomedical information will be set up in the UK following a £37.5m government investment.
Between three and five ‘Digital Innovation Hubs’ will be established over the next three years, which pull data from GP practices, hospitals, social and community care providers for research and development purposes.
Funded through the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the hubs will cover populations of 3-5 million people and aim to complement NHS England’s Local Health and Care Record Exemplar (LHCRE) programme, and NHS Digital’s Data Services Platform.
It is hoped the combined datasets will provide a foundation for NHS clinicians, scientists and researchers to find new treatments for chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and asthma.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said the new hubs would “allow researchers to unlock new advances by harnessing the huge potential of data, so the NHS will continue to lead the way in technology that improves patient care”.
The programme is part of the second wave of the £210 million Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which centres on the use of data for precision medicine and the early diagnosis of diseases.
The hubs will be led by Health Data Research UK (HDR UK), the national institute for data science in health, on behalf of UK Research and Innovation.
Professor Andrew Morris, director of HDR UK, said the project would “help deliver direct benefits to the NHS and the 65 million citizens of the UK.”
He added: “We know from international research that the best performing health systems in terms of patient safety and quality of care are research and data enabled. We expect the creation of Digital Innovation Hubs will help deliver direct benefits to the NHS and the 65 million citizens of the UK.”
HDR UK said it would be “transparent in how and why data is used, stored and shared” by working closely with UK regulatory bodies and established guidelines.
Dr Natalie Banner, a data lead at research charity Wellcome, suggested there was an “enormous potential to unlock the benefits of this data if it is done responsibly, with the support of patients, clinicians and [the] public.”
Dr Banner added: “It is really positive to see HDR UK emphasising the importance of creating a trustworthy system as they approach these complex challenges.”
Last week, Hancock announced that the NHS would receive half a billion pounds of fresh investment in technology.