News, Secondary Care

£37.5m investment in Digital Innovation Hubs to tackle Britain’s biggest health challenges

The new hubs will help connect regional health and care data with biomedical data in secure environments. This will pave the way for NHS, academic researchers and industry innovators to harness scientific knowledge and emerging technologies to develop new drugs and devices and improve health services.

Funded through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the Digital Innovation Hubs will be led by Health Data Research UK (HDR UK), the national institute for data science in health, delivering on behalf of UK Research and Innovation.

Between three and five hubs will be created across the UK over the next three years to enable innovation that will have a long-lasting impact on improving the health of the public. The hubs will provide safe, secure and controlled environments for data and enable NHS clinicians to work together with health researchers, data scientists, computer scientists, ethicists, social scientists and the public.

The Digital Innovation Hubs will securely and safely connect data across regions of 3-5 million people and create an accessible layer of data from GP practices, hospitals, social and community care providers, alongside genetic and biomedical information and other datasets for research and innovation. Combined with the unique research expertise across UK universities and industry, this initiative offers an unprecedented opportunity to use data to improve the long-term health of the public. It will also create new jobs in the UK’s life sciences economy, drive medical innovation and ensure that NHS patients benefit from new treatments first.

The Digital Innovation Hubs programme will launch this Autumn with HDR UK seeking, and learning from, local examples of research partnerships that are already working in practice. These ‘demonstrator projects’ will test approaches that will inform the design and delivery of the Digital Innovation Hubs. Following this, in Spring 2019, HDR UK will invite regional partnerships of NHS, academia and industry to bid to establish a Digital Innovation Hub.

The hubs will complement other initiatives across the UK, including the NHS’ Local Health and Care Record Exemplar programme, which is joining up local health and care data for individual care and planning purposes, and the work of NHS Digital to create a Data Services Platform.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Over its 70 years the NHS has been the forefront of innovation, including the discovery of DNA and the adoption of CT scanners. These hubs will 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, makes taxpayers’ money go further and lessens the workload for staff.”

Professor Andrew Morris, Director of Health Data Research UK, said: “Our approach at Health Data Research UK is built on the principles of ethical and trustworthy use of data that is in the interest of the society we serve. Our existing HDR UK centres of research excellence, constituting 22 Universities and NHS partners across the UK have an outstanding track record of using health data safely and securely to derive new knowledge, scientific discovery and insight. 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.”

Dr Natalie Banner, Lead for Understanding Patient Data at Wellcome, said: “Today’s announcement [about the Digital Innovation Hubs] represents a real opportunity to learn from exciting local projects that are working with patients and clinicians to join up and make better use of the data collected in clinical care. There is enormous potential to unlock the benefits of this data if it is done responsibly, with the support of patients, clinicians and publics. It is really positive to see HDR UK emphasising the importance of creating a trustworthy system as they approach these complex challenges.”