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Secure facilities in the UK

There are already several secure facilities across the UK where researchers can access (but not download) confidential and sensitive data. At each one, researchers have to fulfil strict application criteria.

These are some of the facilities already operating:


Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research

The Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research is made up of four nodes across the UK:

The Farr Institute aims to:

  • provide the physical and electronic infrastructure to allow collaboration across the four sites
  • support their safe use of patient and research data for medical research
  • make partnerships possible by providing a physical structure to co-locate NHS organisations, industry, and other UK academic centres

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HMRC Datalab

The HMRC Datalab was launched in May 2011 as a new Research Data Centre. It allows approved academics to access anonymised HM Revenue & Customs data in a secure environment that is consistent with the HMRC’s data security policy.

The Datalab follows HMRC data protection policies, and there are restrictions on working practices to safeguard taxpayer confidentiality. The HMRC website has more information on how to apply to use the HMRC Datalab and the range of facilities and software available.

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JDI Research Laboratory, UCL

The JDI Research Laboratory is a secure data analysis centre based at UCL that allows sensitive and confidential data collections to be brought into the university so researchers can work on them in a secure, controlled environment. The environment is currently undergoing formal accreditation in accordance with the HMG Security Policy Framework and relevant CESG IA Standards.

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Justice Data Lab

The Justice Data Lab allows organisations working with offenders to access central re-offending data. This service provides vital information to organisations supporting the rehabilitation of offenders and helps them assess the impact of their work on reducing re-offending.

The Justice Data Lab uses data from the Ministry of Justice Data Linking Project, which links together Criminal Justice System data with P45, employment and benefit data through a data share agreement between Ministry of Justice, Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC.

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National Records of Scotland (NRS) Safe Settings

The National Records of Scotland (NRS) are responsible for registering vital events; they also conduct the census of the Scottish population every ten years. At their Edinburgh office, they have two safe settings specifically set up for the Scottish Longitudinal Study and the Scottish Health and Ethnicity Linkage Study, both of which use the National Records of Scotland census data. There are currently no facilities for research into other administrative data collections that the National Records of Scotland hold.

The Scottish Longitudinal Study Development and Support Unit (SLS-DSU) and the Scottish Health and Ethnicity Linkage Study

The Scottish Longitudinal Study Development & Support Unit (SLS-DSU) is a project of the Longitudinal Studies Centre Scotland (LSCS), and is based at the National Records of Scotland at Ladywell House, Edinburgh, as well as at the Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews. Researchers can use the data remotely or at the safe setting in Ladywell House.

Also at Ladywell House, there is an extra safe setting where researchers can access the Ethnicity Linkage Study, which like the Scottish Longitudinal Study uses the National Records of Scotland Census data. There are currently no facilities for research into other administrative data collections held by the National Records of Scotland.

NHS Scotland National Safe Haven & Electronic Data Research and Innovation Service (eDRIS)

Scotland’s Information Security Division′s (ISD) Electronic Data Research and Innovation Service (eDRIS) provides a single point of contact to help researchers in study design, approvals and data access in a secure environment related to patient and non-patient identifiable data. eDRIS aims to make conducting research easier, more efficient and more convenient.

Based at the Farr Institute @ Scotland in Edinburgh, eDRIS encompasses ISD′s Record Linkage services and contributes to the ScottisH Informatics Programme (SHIP).

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NHS Data Linkage and Extract Service (HSCIC)

The Data Linkage and Extract Service is part of the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). It has been developed to provide researchers with access to high-quality healthcare data while maintaining patient confidentiality. The service is underpinned by robust data standards.

It provides a range of data linking services, including linking identifiable data collections in an anonymised format. This process effectively:

  • reduces the IT security level needed to carry out research
  • minimises the time and skill level needed by a researcher to successfully link datasets
  • improves the potential for health-related research which might not otherwise have been possible

Typically, access to data collections which can identify patients needs approval from the Health Research Authority, which is a separate body from the HSCIC. The process of applying and gaining approval may take some time, depending on the sensitivity of data required.

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Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency safe setting

The Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study Research Support Unit supports researchers using the Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study (NILS) and the Northern Ireland Mortality Study (NIMS) and is based at the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), Belfast. Data access is provided in the safe setting at the NILS Research Support Unit.

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Office for National Statistics Virtual Microdata Laboratory (VML)

The Office for National Statistics runs the Virtual Microdata Laboratory, an on-site research access facility where researchers can use restricted data from ONS surveys and nother data collections in a secure environment. The ONS has three VML sites (London, Newport, Titchfield), with additional centres in Glasgow and Belfast.

There is detailed information on the access procedure on the ONS website.

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Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank

The Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank contains a huge range of anonymised data about the population of Wales – over 500 million records and growing. It focuses on improving health, well-being and services. SAIL gets core funding from the Welsh Government’s National Institute of Social Care and Health Research. SAIL holds a range of anonymised, person-based data collections. Subject to safeguards and approvals, these can be anonymously linked together to address important research questions. It is operated by the Health Information Research Unit at Swansea University.

The SAIL website has more information about:

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Secure Lab, UK Data Service

The UK Data Service Secure Lab provides secure access to data collections that are too detailed, sensitive or confidential to be made available under the standard End User Licence or Special Licence. The Secure Lab’s specialised staff apply statistical control techniques to make sure the UK Data Service delivers safe statistical results. The data cannot be downloaded. Once researchers are specially trained, they analyse the data remotely from their institutional desktop or in the Safe Centre at the UK Data Archive. The Secure Lab provides access to statistical and office software to make remote analysis and collaboration secure and convenient.

The UK Data Service website has more information on:

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Page last updated: 05/02/2017