The UK government has revealed it will invest up to £200million which will go towards improving access to NHS data through Trusted Research Environments (TREs) and digital clinical trial services.

This commitment aims to make data more securely and readily available for research, while offering the maximum levels of privacy.

It will also ensure that the NHS can deliver new treatments to patients faster and will tackle health inequalities and enhance patient care through support of more diverse and inclusive clinical research.

Sajid Javid, health and social care secretary, said: “NHS data is making the whole world safer and healthier and has been vital in saving thousands of lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This funding will ensure the UK can continue to help researchers access NHS data securely so patients can benefit from more innovative treatments faster.

“I’m absolutely committed to boosting the UK’s position as a world-leading research centre, transforming our health service and ensuring the NHS continues to deliver excellent care for patients.”

The investment comes as part of a larger £260million pledge to support research and development, as well as the manufacturing of new drugs, devices and diagnostics. This includes £60million towards supporting commercial-sale manufacturing investments by companies at the leading-edge of innovation.

The £200million funding directly into the UK healthcare system will deliver on government commitments set out in the Life Sciences Vision, to harness NHS data to drive health research and innovation, building on ground-breaking work completed during the pandemic to develop diagnostics and treatment for Covid-19.

This includes the RECOVERY trial which made use of NHS data through NHS DigiTrials and led to the discovery of Dexamethasone, the world’s first proven treatment for Covid-19, in just 100 days, which is thought to have spared at least one million lives across the planet.

Dr Ben Goldacre, director of DataLab at Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, said: “This funding announced today will drive forward the longstanding ambition to broaden access to NHS data while preserving patient privacy, by building secure Trusted Research Environments that support modern, transparent, efficient approaches to data analysis.”

The government’s ambition to enable research to better access NHS data is an achievable one, evident through the practice of Health Data Research UK. Last year they launched the ‘Cohort Discovery’ tool on the Health Data Research Innovation Gateway.

The tool allows researchers to search by specific population criteria across multiple datasets and enables access to data in a fast, secure, de-identified and ethical way through the continued use of Trusted Research Environments.

In response to the new funding to improve access to NHS data, Colette Goldrick, director of strategy, research and partnerships at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: “This substantial investment in developing and building public confidence in the UK’s health data infrastructure is very welcome.

“Health data has been critical in the fight against Covid, and more people than ever before have seen the benefits that sharing information can bring in terms of researching and developing new treatments at unprecedented speed.

“We look forward to this funding, once confirmed, strengthening the UK’s health data assets to unlock a new generation of medical breakthroughs.”