Background: Vast quantities of electronic data are collected about patients and service users as they pass through health service and other public sector organisations, and these data present enormous potential for research and policy evaluation. The Health Information Research Unit (HIRU) aims to realise the potential of electronically-held, person-based, routinely-collected data to conduct and support health-related studies. However, there are considerable challenges that must be addressed before such data can be used for these purposes, to ensure compliance with the legislation and guidelines generally known as Information Governance.
Methods: A set of objectives was identified to address the challenges and establish the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) system in accordance with Information Governance. These were to: 1) ensure data transportation is secure; 2) operate a reliable record matching technique to enable accurate record linkage across datasets; 3) anonymise and encrypt the data to prevent re-identification of individuals; 4) apply measures to address disclosure risk in data views created for researchers; 5) ensure data access is controlled and authorised; 6) establish methods for scrutinising proposals for data utilisation and approving output; and 7) gain external verification of compliance with Information Governance.
Results: The SAIL databank has been established and it operates on a DB2 platform (Data Warehouse Edition on AIX) running on an IBM 'P' series Supercomputer: Blue-C. The findings of an independent internal audit were favourable and concluded that the systems in place provide adequate assurance of compliance with Information Governance. This expanding databank already holds over 500 million anonymised and encrypted individual-level records from a range of sources relevant to health and well-being. This includes national datasets covering the whole of Wales (approximately 3 million population) and local provider-level datasets, with further growth in progress. The utility of the databank is demonstrated by increasing engagement in high quality research studies.
Conclusion: Through the pragmatic approach that has been adopted, we have been able to address the key challenges in establishing a national databank of anonymised person-based records, so that the data are available for research and evaluation whilst meeting the requirements of Information Governance.