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NHS administrative data linked to national longitudinal cohort studies for first time

An innovative agreement between the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) and NHS Digital has enabled the UK Data Service to offer a secure onward sharing of linked datasets for the first time ever. The agreement gives researchers access to administrative health data alongside study data, revealing new insights into how levels of prosperity, education and employment can influence health outcomes.

Health administrative records from Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) collected by NHS Digital have been linked to four CLS longitudinal studies: 1958 National Child Development Study, 1970 British Cohort Study, Next Steps and the Millennium Cohort Study. The HES database contains NHS data about all hospital admissions in England and include information on A&E admittances, critical care, admitted patient care and outpatient care.

CLS data managers processed the data before depositing it with the UKDS, to make the data ‘research ready’ as the HES data was not initially collected for research purposes. Health data requires extra processing, including adding some variable and value labels from look-up files and data de-identification measures, such as removal of variables, truncation and recoding. This is because specific or rare health conditions, in combination with other variables, can increase the risk of re-identification. You can read more about how NHS Digital, CLS and the UK Data Service overcame the issues arising from sharing this linked data in our project case study.

The UK Data Service facilitates access to the longitudinal studies via the Five Safes Framework. Accredited researchers must complete the Safe Researcher Training and request the variables needed for their analyses. Approved researchers will undoubtedly find much of interest within this new source of multivariate health data.