PA Consulting catches £5.3m to develop web gateway that handles access to UK health data – including on COVID-19

Platform aims to help research into disease prevention and cures

Health Data Research UK has awarded business advisory firm PA Consulting a £5.3m contract to develop a web application to manage researchers and private-sector firms' access to health research data, including that held on the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a contract award notice published this week, the national institute for health data science – which is funded by the Department of Health, the Medical Research Council, public research councils, Scotland's Chief Scientific Office and the British Heart Foundation among others – said it was "working in partnership with the NHS, industry, academia, patients and the public, and providing safe and secure access to rich health data" with the aim to "better understand diseases and discover new ways to prevent, treat and cure them".

The health data gateway that PA Consulting will build is part of the Digital Innovation Hub Programme, co-funded by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund established by the Theresa May government in 2017, which aims to "bring together our world-leading research base with Britain's best businesses to transform how we live, work and move around".

In the contract award notice, Health Data Research UK said the gateway "will not store or hold health data, which will be held by data custodians in secure and accredited Trusted Research Environments with all analysis conducted in these environments".

It added: "The Gateway will hold the business and technical metadata associated with the datasets to support a rich data discovery experience."

In the initial tender notice published October 2019, Health Data Research UK said a minimal viable product for selected gateway functions would be complete in January 2020. It said it expected a technology partner to design, develop and operate the full gateway from 30 April 2020 until 30 April 2022.

Although the contract award notice was not published until this week, a spokeswoman for HDR UK explained there had not been a delay.

While the contract with PA was signed on 18 June 2020, the final selection of the preferred supplier was made on 2 April 2020, she said, adding: "PA started working with HDR UK under an interim contract on 27 April 2020 whilst we set in place the full contract."

Before the contract award, Health Data Research UK said the function of the gateway would be to help "researchers and innovators to find information about more than 440 health datasets and request access to them, including for research into the COVID-19 pandemic".

The gateway had already helped with the COVID-19 Symptom Study, led by King's College London and health science company ZOE, which involves 3.5 million users who are regularly reporting on their health and symptoms.

"The data from their Symptom Tracker app is proving vital for research and influence on health policy, evidenced by the recent addition by the UK Government of loss of sense of smell and taste as a recognised symptom of COVID-19," Health Data Research UK said.

Separately, the government is building a COVID-19 data store, which extracts related health and medical data into a separate database. It is working with AWS, Google and Microsoft as well as controversial AI companies Faculty and Palantir. Campaigners forced the publication of contracts related to the data store earlier this month. ®

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