New Centres put health records at the heart of UK medical research

New Centres put health records at the heart of UK medical research

A consortium of 10 UK government and charity funders, led by the Medical Research Council, has made a historic £19 million investment to establish four e-health research Centres of Excellence in London, Manchester, Dundee and Swansea.

The funding awards were announced  at the British Business Embassy’s life sciences summit at Lancaster House by the Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts. The Centres will open in late 2012 and will harness the wealth of UK electronic health records to improve patient care and public health.

The four Centres will investigate a wide range of conditions that place a huge burden on the UK population, including diabetes and obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer and child and maternal health. 

Maximising the unique value of the NHS, the Centres will undertake cutting edge research that links e-health records with other forms of research and routinely collected data, which will lead topatient and public benefit and ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of global medical research.

By combining clinical, social and research data, researchers aim to identify more effective treatments, improve drug safety, assess risks to public health and study the causes of diseases and disability.

The four Centres will make use of patient data sets available through the Clinical Practice Research Datalink, a £60 million service recently announced by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and the National Institute of Health Research. The public and charitable funding for these Centres builds on this important commitment from the Government and on similar bodies that link patient records in Scotland and Wales. 

Public understanding of the importance of using health data for research is crucial to advancing drug discovery and improving patient care. The new Centres will play an active role in engaging with the public to promote better understanding of the benefits of e-health records research. The Centres will also act as a vital point of contact for industry, the NHS and policy makers.

A network will be formed to capitalise on the expertise in the Centres, and to encourage wider collaborations among UK and international researchers to make sure there are effective links between different types of health and social data sets. The Centres will also offer career development and training opportunities to increase the UK’s capacity and capability in research using health records.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said:

“Thanks to the NHS and the UK’s world-leading research base, we are uniquely positioned to use patient data to study disease and develop better treatments. The e-health centres are the first of their kind and have the potential to revolutionise health research. They will provide a vital insight into conditions affecting millions of people and ultimately bring benefits for patients.”

Professor Sir John Savill, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, says: ”This is a watershed moment for data research and for the Medical Research Council which I believe will deliver the benefits of e-health research, improving patient care over the coming years.  The way in which the partner organisations have come together to invest in e-health underpins its importance and will help establish the UK as a world leader in this field.”

The members of the E-Health Research Initiative who have jointly-funded the four Centres are: Arthritis Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Chief Scientist Office (Scottish Government Health Directorates), the Economic and Social Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research, the National Institute for Social Care and Health Research (Welsh Government) and the Wellcome Trust.

Professor Andrew Morris, Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Dundee and Chief Scientist at the Scottish Government Health Department said “Colleagues in Scotland are thrilled to be awarded Centre of Excellence status.  This builds upon over 40 years experience of using electronic patient records not only to drive improvements in the quality of health care in Scotland, but also to innovate in the way we deliver clinical trials and discover the best treatment options for patients and communities.  The spirit of collaboration between NHS Scotland and the Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews and Strathclyde has been tremendous.  There is a great opportunity to make the United Kingdom the destination of choice of eHealth research, and in doing so help deliver the best quality health care to the people of Scotland”.

The University of Aberdeen’s Dr Corrie Black and Professor Phil Hannaford are part of the Scottish Centre.

Professor Hannaford, NHS Grampian Chair of Primary Care and Vice Principal of Research and Knowledge Exchange at the University, said: “We are delighted to be part of this pan-Scottish collaboration which builds on our strengths both in Aberdeen and across the rest of the country in using data to improve people’s health.”

“The University of Aberdeen, through the Health Data Linkage Network in North East Scotland (HEADLINES), brings together health researchers from various disciplines with a wealth of experience in eHealth research.

“Within this consortium, researchers from Aberdeen will contribute to research understanding how early life experiences influence health in later life,  the study of medicines and in particular the safety of medicines, and understanding the impact of interventions to improve health and health service delivery.”