New data from NHS Digital is expected to help researchers understand the impact of Covid-19 on those living with cancer.

The data has been made available in a secure environment through DATA-CAN, the UK’s Health Data Research Hub for Cancer. They have worked alongside NHS Digital to provide timely and secure access to cancer specific data.

It was curated by NHS Digital’s National Disease Registration Service, as well as national population health datasets in the NHS Digital Trusted Research Environment (TRE). TREs are secure spaces where authorised researchers can analyse the data they need for approved projects without it being downloaded.

Researchers will be able to improve their understanding of the current Covid-19 impact on the referral, diagnosis, treatment and outcomes of patients with cancer, and those who may become unwell in the future.

The ambition is to look at how this information can help develop new services, tests and treatments and ultimately save lives.

Michael Chapman, director of research and clinical trials at NHS Digital, said: “Safe access to data is absolutely vital in helping medical researchers explore the impact of Covid-19 on cancer services and outcomes, and more widely to understand the causes of cancer and how best to diagnose, prevent and treat it.

“NHS Digital is committed to making data accessible to researchers in a safe and trusted environment that safeguards patient data at the same time as allowing for world-class research.”

NHS Digital’s TRE is supported by the recent announcement by the government of up to £200million being invested to enable more secure and efficient access to NHS data through TREs and digital clinical trial services.

This will guarantee that the NHS will be able to deliver new treatments faster and enhance patient care and will develop the NHS Digital TRE so that it can be made available to larger numbers of users in due course.

Professor Mark Lawler, professor of digital health at Queen’s University Belfast, scientific director of DATA-CAN and chair of the scientific steering group of this new initiative, said: “This is a very exciting development as it allows us to produce precise scientific evidence of the continuing impact of Covid on cancer patients and cancer services.

“This cancer intelligence will empower us to address the cancer backlog that Covid has precipitated and build back both better and smarter, in order to deliver the enhanced cancer services that our patients deserve.”

It is clear that tackling cancer and improving the lives of patients living with the disease is a priority for the UK government.

As well as their commitment to invest up to £200million to enable better access to NHS data, the government unveiled a 10-year national plan to tackle cancer, including an increased use of artificial intelligence and machine learning.