RDS take significant first step towards simplified data access for research

Written by
Professor Roger Halliday

A year on from welcoming the national data strategy to support health and social care, Research Data Scotland’s CEO Professor Roger Halliday reflects on the progress so far, and what comes next.

Since being created by Scottish Government in 2021, Research Data Scotland (RDS) has been hard at work establishing ourselves and building key relationships to enable better access to public sector data – including health and social care data.

This is central to our vision to advance health and social wellbeing in Scotland by simplifying and speeding up access to data for research, resulting in better evidence for policymaking and improved services for Scottish citizens.

Unlocking the potential of Scotland’s data

When it was published last year, it was great to see Scotland’s Data Strategy for Health and Social Care recognise the power of using existing data for research, while acknowledging that access to this data must be improved for researchers and policymakers.

This is where RDS’s role comes in, helping to deliver this strategy alongside other organisations such as NHS Research Scotland and Public Health Scotland.

Research Data Scotland is about to take a significant first step towards the goal of a simplified process with the initial launch of our Researcher Access Service, meeting one of the deliverables from the Data Strategy.

Our new Researcher Access Service

Co-developed in partnership with the electronic Data Research and Innovation Service (eDRIS), which is part of Public Health Scotland, the Researcher Access Service is the first digitised end-to-end pathway for researchers to apply for and get access to Scottish public sector data for research. The service’s intention is to provide streamlined, lawful, fair, and safe access to data for the public good.

With phase one launching in April 2024, our team will continue to work on the Researcher Access Service to further its capabilities. This includes improvements coming later this year that will change the way data is governed and curated, further improving speed and reducing complexity. We’ll also be widening the range of data available for research through the service, working with researchers and users to understand which datasets could provide the most valuable insights, and collaborating with partner organisations to enable secure access to these datasets via the Researcher Access Service.

User engagement has been a crucial part of the design and delivery of phase one, and consultation will be ongoing as we continue to grow the service. If you’d like to get involved and help shape the service as it develops, please sign up to our engagement contact list.

Initial launch and first projects

For phase one of the Researcher Access Service, there are nine datasets available. These include some of Public Health Scotland’s most frequently requested datasets including  births, deaths, maternity inpatient and day cases, mental health inpatient and day cases, accident and emergency, and prescribing.

Some of the first researchers to use this new service will be the awardees of our Accelerator Awards. In early 2024, RDS invited applications for a £50,000 total grant fund for non-commercial organisations to deliver research projects through the new Researcher Access Service. Funding these projects will help to cement this new digitised pathway and provide valuable user feedback to inform and shape the future of the service. Research Data Scotland hope that the successful Accelerator Awardees will become key advocates for data access improvements in Scotland that maximise public benefit.

Safe Haven Charter

There is significant expertise and data within Scotland’s Regional Safe Havens, with the potential to amplify this by connecting the data we have across Scotland. This requires common approaches across the network to build and embed trust. Research Data Scotland has built strong relationships with experts across our Regional Safe Havens, and is now working with them on a Safe Haven Charter. The Safe Haven Charter will provide aligned standards – paving the way to joined up data across the country that will benefit people who live in Scotland.

By making use of the skills and support from a range of organisations across Scotland, we’re starting to deliver on the ambition of Scottish Government’s Data Strategy for Health and Social Care. We’re excited for the changes yet to come that will continue to improve the ways Scottish data is used in research to save time, money and lives.

If you would like to know more about our work on the Researcher Access Service, Safe Havens Charter or other projects, please visit researchdata.scot

Researcher Access Service Datasets

A full list of the Public Health Scotland datasets included in the initial launch of the Researcher Access Service can be found in the table below.

Dataset name Date range
Outpatient Appointments and Attendances – Scottish Morbidity Record (SMR00) Jan 1997 – 2023
General Acute Inpatient and Day Case – Scottish Morbidity Record (SMR01) April 1997 – 2023
Maternity Inpatient and Day Case – Scottish Morbidity Record (SMR02) April 1997 – 2023
Mental Health Inpatient and Day Case – Scottish Morbidity Record (SMR04) April 1997 – 2023
Scottish Cancer Registry (SMR06) April 1997 – 2023
Prescribing Information System (PIS) January 2015 – 2023
Scotland Accident and Emergency January 2011 – 2023
National Records of Scotland (NRS) – Births Data 1981 – 2023 (*four variables on social class and employment status only populated from 1996)
National Records of Scotland (NRS) – Deaths Data 2015 – 2023

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