Patient data in research

Patient data is hugely valuable for research. But the value of that data can only be unlocked if concerns about patient privacy are taken seriously. 

Our position

We want to make sure that where patient data is used, it’s managed safely and securely, and patient confidentiality is respected. 

There’s huge potential to use patient data to improve health, care and services across the NHS. But if public confidence in how it’s used is lost, there can be serious consequences for research. 

Why is it important to use patient data?

The information from patient data can help to:

  • improve individual care
  • understand more about disease risks and causes
  • improve diagnosis
  • develop new treatments and prevent disease
  • plan NHS services
  • improve patient safety
  • evaluate government and NHS policy.

What we’re doing

Improving conversations about patient data

We set up Understanding Patient Data to support conversations with the public, patients and healthcare professionals about health and care data.

It provides objective evidence about:

Our work on patient data has transferred to this initiative.

The initiative is funded by Wellcome, the Medical Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Department of Health and Public Health England. 

Understanding public attitudes towards data use

We’re exploring how people feel about the use of their patient data for purposes beyond individual care.

The Wellcome Monitor (Wave 3) found that almost four in five people surveyed (77%) would be willing to allow their medical records to be used in a research study if they were anonymised. 

In March 2016, we commissioned Ipsos MORI to find out what the public thought about commercial organisations accessing health, medical and genetic data. 

Read the: 

Supporting the regulation and governance of data

We recommended  six key actions [PDF 314KB] to avoid repeating the mistakes of This NHS England initiative to extract patient information from GP databases across the country attracted widespread criticism in 2014. There are important lessons that can be learned about improving governance and communications around the use of data.

We were also involved in making sure the EU General Data Protection Regulation supported research. 

Timeline of key dates

Our timeline sets out some key dates in relation to the use of patient data in research.


April 2017


November 2016

September 2016

April 2016


December 2015

September 2015

August 2015

July 2015

March 2015

January 2015


August 2014

July 2014

May 2014

February 2014

January 2014



More information

Contact us

If you have any questions, contact Natalie Banner


Data sharing

Sharing data helps researchers to access and build on new information and knowledge.

Influencing policy

Science policy affects a broad range of issues, ranging from data sharing and gene editing, to intellectual property and regulation.

Reports and consultations