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HSCIC secure facility to open by March

Neil Merrett Published 06 January 2015

Extraction of data from secure facility supporting pilot of NHS England programme will only commence when stakeholders are "ready"


The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) will ensure a secure data facility (SDF) is available by March to support the pilot stage of NHS England's programme, although the extraction of patient information may not occur until a later date.

An HSCIC spokesperson said that the secure facility, which will allow a "limited number of approved researchers" to access data gathered from select GP practices during an initial 'pathfinder' phase of, was required to be in place during the first quarter of the year.

The extraction of patient information to support would not however begin until stakeholders "were ready".

"The SDF will allow approved applicants to use and analyse the data, but not to take the information away from our site. There will be tight regulations in place to ensure that any resulting analysis which is taken away is in anonymised form," said an HSCIC statement. has continued to prove controversial with pressure groups, which have raised concerns over the confidentiality implications of sharing highly personal data concerning medical and mental health histories, leading to the programme's launch being delayed from early 2014.

NHS England has yet to set a launch date for when it will commence trials of The principles of the programme have recently been backed by National Data Guardian Dame Fiona Caldicott, despite her calls for a number of outstanding questions about the implementation of to be answered to address privacy concerns.

HSCIC's SDF plan follows a consultation between July and September 2014 that saw 177 respondents - including representatives from the NHS, campaign groups, data companies and research organisations - provide recommendations for providing secure access to patient data.

Four potential solutions to ensure secure data sharing have since been put forward in an effort to address concerns raised in a report by HSCIC non-executive board member Sir Nick Partridge. The report, published last June, called for stricter controls on health information and improved clarity for data users.

The proposed solutions to achieve these aims include:

  • Establishing a secure data facility in Leeds to provide a physical environment where authorised users can access data
  • Commencing a "federated hierarchy" partnership between two or more organisations that would see a network of secure data facilities created to allow access of HSCIC-held information from secure settings
  • Providing virtual access to HSCIC data remotely and securely
  • Offering public and open data that would allow a range of people wishing to access records to "self-serve" and look at anonymised information as opposed to bespoke data they have requested

These four solutions will be considered by an 'Expert Reference Group' made up of researchers, state bodies, charities, commissioning agencies and patients' groups to help the HSCIC "flesh out" the best way to proceed with attempts to secure the sharing of health data. The outcome of this process is expected to be completed by spring in an effort to allow the HSCIC to implement a new remote secure access service for certain data sets by December 2015.

"The HSCIC has consulted with researchers, charities, NHS bodies, data analysis companies and campaign groups over options for providing access to data. We have been very pleased with the high level of engagement on this topic and have received a wide range of views," said a HSCIC statement.

"We are committed to taking the time necessary to ensure that we take all the feedback we have received into account so that any new data access arrangements can be properly used to achieve improvements in health and social care for all while protecting patient confidentiality."

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