£22m competition launched to set up ‘Digital Innovation Hubs’


A £22 million competition has been launched to help set up five “Digital Innovation Hubs” connecting regional healthcare data with genetic and biomedical information across the country.

Part of a wider £37.5 million funding programme launched last year, the innovation hubs will give UK scientists and clinicians access to high-quality health data from the NHS, universities and social care in a bid to find faster cures for disease and deliver more efficient clinical trials.

They will make data from some of the UK’s major health providers accessible in one place for the first time, including from NHS England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Projects focusing on datasets in cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory, neurodegenerative, dementia, diabetes and immunity are of particular interest. Hubs will be expected to make this data available to researchers.

The information will go through a de-identification and encryption process to protect patients’ privacy.

The hubs, which aim to complement NHS England’s Local Health and Care Record Exemplar (LHCRE) programme and NHS Digital’s Data Services Platform, are expected to be in place by the end of 2019.

Health minister Nicola Blackwood said: “It is absolutely crucial that researchers are able to access the NHS’s world-leading anonymised data so they can develop cutting-edge treatments and solutions to some of healthcare’s biggest challenges.

“This will mean people can receive new medicines quicker and get more timely diagnoses which will ultimately save lives.

“As part of our long term plan, we are determined to encourage more innovation in the NHS than ever before so patients benefit from the best medicines and technologies.”

Lead by Health Data Research UK, which launched an alliance in December last year to examine how health data can best be collected and managed, the project also aims to speed up drug development and give patients’ faster access to more personalised treatment.

Professor Andrew Morris, Director of Health Data Research UK, said: “Working closely with UK Research and Innovation, our focus in delivering these new centres of excellence is first and foremost on ensuring that patients reap the rewards and are reassured that all data are used ethically and responsibly.

“When combined with the UK’s ability to bring data together from hospitals, patients, public health and laboratories, we can power an open innovation platform that improves the health and care of people living with cancer, diabetes and heart disease and make the UK the place for ethical data research.”

A £3m trial is already underway with 10 projects across the UK, including in Manchester where 1,000 patients with implanted pacemakers and defibrillators will have their health data analysed in real-time to detect signs of deterioration.

It’s hoped the £338,000 project will result in fewer hospital admissions.

The hubs are part of the government’s Data to Early Diagnosis and Precision Medicine Challenge, backed my £210m of government investment.

The Medical Research Council is running the competition to set up the hubs. For more information or to apply visit their website here.

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