SAIL Databank: A World-Class Trusted Research Environment (TRE)

What is SAIL Databank?

SAIL stands for Secure Anonymised Information Linkage. The SAIL Databank is a world-class flagship for the robust secure storage and use of anonymised person-based data for research to improve health, wellbeing and public services. Originally a repository of health data, SAIL’s data assets now include a range of administrative datasets to create even greater opportunities to build rich longitudinal cohorts for research. Recognised internationally as one of the broadest and best-characterised population databanks, SAIL hosts comprehensive data about the Welsh population and is increasingly being entrusted to manage data representing UK populations. Backed and endorsed by the Government, the SAIL Databank receives core funding from the Welsh Government’s Health and Care Research Wales and UK Research and Innovation.

What challenges needed to be overcome by SAIL?

There were many challenges to address in setting out to establish the SAIL Databank. When it started in 2007 there were few other countries with data linkage infrastructures from which to learn, with the exception of notable examples in Australia and Canada. Consequently, even dialogues on this topic with government, professional bodies, health and social care organisations, regulators and the public were often pioneering activities. So pragmatically, the work of the SAIL Databank began as a pilot in one local authority area in the West Wales region.

  • Global Access. Until 2009, access to SAIL data could only take place onsite using dedicated terminals under the supervision of SAIL Databank staff. Although this was adequate at first, it wasn’t sufficient to meet the increasing demands for SAIL data.
  • Secure Data Repository. SAIL needed to create a central data repository as opposed to a distributed, federated data access model, to maximise data utility, maintain data quality and to manage a governance system of strict controls for data access and analysis.
  • High Performance Computing. SAIL needed an IT system that was sufficiently stable to cope with data access and processing at source, and able to develop technical processes to minimise the demand on data providers transferring their data to SAIL. SAIL also requires the storage and handling of complex data types, such genomic, imaging and free-text data for emerging areas of research.
  • Analytical Tools. A solution was required by SAIL that could support a range of analytical software to meet the various data provider requirements and to offer the tools most familiar to data users to maximise efficiency and utility.
  • Strong Governance. SAIL’s ‘Privacy-by-design’ model is an important concept to ensure that an appropriate set of control measures are built in, as opposed to ‘bolt on’ solutions, that’s applied at all operational stages but maintains flexibility and upgradability.
  • Data Linkage. A cornerstone to SAIL’s success, SAIL required an extremely accurate data linkage solution to link together its extensive range of population data to identify patterns across entire populations to give a much broader picture.

How does SeRP provide solutions to these challenges?

SAIL DATABANK TECHNOLOGY SUPPORTS A NEW COVID-19 SYMPTOM TRACKING APP
SAIL Databank has facilitated a secure, anonymised data pipeline to deliver information from a new COVID-19 symptom tracking app into the NHS, supporting the response to the pandemic.

SAIL DATABANK AND SERP TECHNOLOGY PLAY A KEY ROLE IN AN INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION TO ACCELERATE COVID-19 RESEARCH
A new International COVID-19 Data Research Alliance and Workbench to support the rapid development of therapies to combat the global effects of COVID-19. Established by Health Data Research (HDR) UK and partners, following funding announced by the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator and the Gates Foundation.

SAIL DATABANK SUPPORTS UK-REACH: A NEW UK STUDY LAUNCHED TO INVESTIGATE COVID-19 RISKS FOR BAME HEALTHCARE STAFF
The new research study investigates the risks of COVID-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) healthcare workers has been launched, after evidence has emerged that higher proportions of associated deaths within these groups were recorded – more than twice that of the white population.

SAIL DATABANK REVEALED NO CASES OF RARE FORM OF CLOTTING IN COVID-19 VACCINATED POPULATION IN WALES
Research found no cases of the rare blood disorder in the COVID-19 vaccinated population of Wales. A rapid evaluation of the Welsh healthcare data was undertaken to respond to an urgent request for information on COVID vaccine-related blood clots.

More information and technical details on the SAIL Databank/SeRP partnership are available from the following publication,

Jones, K.H., Ford, D.V., Thompson, S. and Lyons, R.A., 2019. A profile of the SAIL databank on the UK secure research platform. International Journal of Population Data Science, 4(2).