New NHS hospital prescriptions data available for COVID-19 researchers

NHSX and NHS Digital have announced that a new data resource for secondary care prescriptions is now available to COVID-19 researchers.

The data collection focuses on medicines that are prescribed and administered in hospitals – providing daily information harvested from electronic prescription and administration systems at secondary care NHS trusts across England.

However, the data is currently limited as it’s sourced only from organisations that have electronic prescribing and administration systems (EPMA) from WellSky.

There is set to be an expansion of the data collection, with medicines data to eventually also be added from trusts using the the Cerner system, which is due to go live by autumn 2021.

Access is being ‘strictly’ managed by the NHS Digital’s Data Access request Service (DARS), with the information only available to individuals working in areas such as COVID-19 research or medicines policy.

It is hoped that by linking this data with other NHS datasets, researchers will be able to understand how medicines are being used to treat COVID-19 in hospitals and also identify any changes in patterns of prescribing pre, during and post-pandemic.

In addition, secondary care prescribing data could provide information on patient groups at higher risk of severe COVID, and whether specific medicines are leading to poorer outcomes, or greater protection against the virus.

The resource will also enable researchers to model the ‘impact that treatment of serious infections’ has on patient outcomes and antimicrobial resistance, according to NHS Digital.

Steven Marks, Programme Manager at NHS Digital, said: “Until recently there had been no central information available at patient level in secondary care to aid understanding and research into hospital prescribing practices, so this high-quality data will provide critical insight into how infection is being managed across NHS organisations in response to COVID-19.”

Ann Slee, Associate CCIO (Medicines) at NHSX, added: “This is a huge step forward and forms the basis for the longer-term national collection of EPMA data that will support numerous medication safety and other overprescribing initiatives.”

The announcement fits in with a number of other NHS, research and academia data-related initiatives that have been implemented recently to support research and data linkage for wider population-level perspectives.

Examples include data projects across a number of areas, such as the connection of Systematic Anti-Cancer Therapy (SACT) data from cancer centres across Scotland, as well as a new NHS AI Lab Skunkworks project called ‘Data Lens’ – a fast-access data search tool that joins up data catalogues from a wide range of official sources.

At a national level in England, HTN also recently reported on the BHF Data Science Centre and its CVD-COVID-UK consortium, which is working with NHS Digital to provide linked population patient health datasets for research into the links between cardiovascular diseases and COVID-19.