A review led by Professor Ben Goldacre into health data has recommended that Trusted Research Environments (TREs) become “the norm” and are used as a way for researchers to access data and help build trust with the public.

Professor Goldacre, who is a Bennett professor of evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford, was tasked with leading the review in February 2021 which aimed to look into how health data for research and analysis can be used efficiently and safely.

Recommendations in the review include building a “a small number of secure analytics platforms ” or “shared ‘Trusted Research Environments'” and then make them “the norm for all analysis of NHS patient records data by academics, NHS analysts, and innovators”.

TREs, also known as ‘data safe havens’ are described as a secure space for researchers to access sensitive data and are based on the idea that researchers should access and use data within a single secure environment.

Other recommendations in the Goldacre Review include:

  • Improving opportunities for data analysts within the NHS by modernising their job and career development, including improving salaries, training, structure, community and best practice
  • Encouraging open working for all NHS data analysis, for instance through the use of a shared library of data analysis tools, reducing duplication and increasing consistency of results

There is also a recommendation about having public conversations about issues such as “commercial use of NHS data for innovation” as well as building “trust by taking concrete action on privacy and transparency” – adding that “trust cannot be earned through communications and public engagement alone”.

Professor Goldacre said: “NHS data is a phenomenal resource that can revolutionise healthcare, research, and the life sciences. But data alone is not enough.

“We need secure, efficient platforms – and teams with skills – to unleash this potential. This will be difficult, technical work. It is inspiring to see momentum grow for better, broader, safer use of health data across so many sectors.”

The government’s response to the review will be included in the upcoming Health and Social Care Data Strategy which will set the direction for the use of data in a post-pandemic healthcare system. A draft version of the strategy was published in June 2021, with the final version expected in Spring 2022.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “Countless lives have been saved through the pandemic after health data enabled ground-breaking research.

“As we move forwards, millions of patients could benefit from the more efficient use of health data, through boosting innovation and ensuring the NHS can continue to offer cutting-edge care, saving lives.

“I want to thank Professor Ben Goldacre, his team, and all those who contributed to this review – this work, alongside our upcoming data strategy, will help to transform the NHS on our road to recovery.”