Professor Ben Goldacre has told the Science and Technology Committee that Trusted Research Environments (TREs) will mitigate data risks and “earn public trust”.

Professor Goldacre, who is a Bennett professor of evidence-base medicine at the University of Oxford, was answering questions from the committee on his review, which he was tasked with leading in February 2021.

The review aimed to look into how health data for research and analysis can be used efficiently and safely. Prof Goldacre described data to the committee as “like nuclear material” that after being refined and processed, “becomes tremendously powerful” and “rather dangerous”.

Speaking to the committee on May 11 2022, Prof Goldacre said: “Once it’s leaked, it can’t be unleaked, and you have to work very carefully with it in order to do good with it, whilst minimising harms.”

In his review, one of the recommendations Prof Goldacre makes is for TREs to become “the norm” and he spoke about the benefits to the committee of MPs.

“Future efforts to share NHS data with private industry should take place in Trusted Research Environments,” he said.

“I’m confident that by doing that, not only can you mitigate risks, but you can also begin to earn public trust.”

TREs would enable data to be made accessible in a secure way to legitimate users without the risk of it leaking and becoming the “nuclear material” that Prof Goldacre describes it as.

Interestingly, Prof Goldacre revealed that he personally opted out of the aborted plan to share GP Health Data last year, describing the risks as “very salient” to him.

He suggested that the government should consider prison sentences for those who do misuse sensitive data.

He told the committee: “You need to block misusing data, you need to ensure that you detect it when they do, and you need to make sure that the penalties are so high that people are afraid to do it.”

As well as ensuring TREs become “the norm,” other recommendations in the review include improving opportunities for data analysts within the NHS and encouraging open working for all NHS data analysis.