New linked patient health data resource available to UK researchers for COVID and cardiovascular studies

A new health data resource has been launched to accelerate research into the relationship between COVID-19 and heart and circulatory disease.

The CVD-COVID-UK consortium, in partnership with NHS Digital, links patient health datasets to offer a UK-wide and more ‘complete picture’ for researchers to work with.

An initiative from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Health Data Research UK (HDRUK), the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and its Data Science Centre, the resource will cover 54.4 million people. This equates to over 96% of the English population.

The ultimate aim is to improve patient treatment and care, while researchers will also be able to work and collaborate in a secure online digital environment that keeps data secure through the Trusted Research Environment (TRE).

Linked data available will include GP records, death records, and data from hospitals, COVID-19 testing laboratories and pharmacies. These will provide an overview of individuals’ health journeys as well as key information such as sex, age and ethnicity.

Professor Cathie Sudlow, Director of the BHF Data Science Centre, said: “Because of our partnership with NHS Digital, researchers are now able to access health data at a scale that a year ago was hardly even imaginable.

“The combination of the data and the new Trusted Research Environment are allowing research teams across the UK to work together to answer questions about a very wide range of common and rare health conditions.

“This will help health professionals, patients, carers and health service planners make better decisions to benefit the health of the whole country, including people of all ages, ethnic groups, social backgrounds, and geographic locations.”

The consortium features over 130 members from 40 institutions and will be managed by the BHF Data Science Centre. Access to the TRE is only for approved researchers, while other privacy and security precautions include de-indentified and pseudonymised data.