The importance of data-driven research into COVID-19
Data-driven research into COVID-19 plays a crucial role in tackling the pandemic, identifying areas for targeted intervention, planning and evaluating vaccination roll-out, as well as informing and shaping other public health and policy responses. Since April 2020, a wealth of COVID-19 data has been collected by the Health Service Executive (HSE) in areas including testing, tracing, infectious disease notification and hospitalisation. This data is maintained by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in its COVID-19 Data Research Hub.
A wealth of data
This wealth of data can greatly increase our understanding of and response to COVID-19. Initially, this data was used solely by a sub-group of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). Now, in partnership with the Health Research Board (HRB), the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and the Department of Health (DoH), an application process has been established to enable registered researchers apply for access to the data. This process includes a series of safeguards to protect the privacy and data protection rights of individuals under stringent and transparent rules while advancing our understanding of COVID-19 for the benefit of people’s health and patient care, as well as healthcare policy and planning.
Informing COVID-19 policy and practice
COVID-19 data-driven research will support clinicians, service managers, policy makers and researchers to further understand and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, to create a greater understanding of variation in COVID-19 risk in people with underlying conditions to tailor health promotion and protection measures, or to identify trends and associations between COVID-19 interventions and patient outcomes, as well as the cost effectiveness and impact of such interventions. This secondary re-use of COVID-19 data for research purposes will inform evidence-based decision-making and public policy in Ireland during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Safeguarding privacy and data protection rights of individuals
Preserving the privacy, confidentiality and data protection rights of individuals is to the fore of this initiative and warrants a robust application process. Key to this is the Research Data Governance Board (RDGB), a specially established safeguard that will:
- Facilitate secure and controlled access to data contained within the COVID-19 Data Research Hub
- Act as a central point for application receipt, screening, review and prioritisation of data requests prior to accessing the CSO service
- Make recommendations to the CSO on applications for accessing data if they have been approved by a Research Ethics Committee and by the Health Research Consent Declaration Committee
- Monitor the demand and use of the COVID-19 data and the supporting CSO service to inform a wider discussion on secondary re-use of health and social care data for research purposes
Following CSO approval to access data, researchers will be subject to robust protocols and safeguards implemented by the CSO in line with its Data Management Policy. The researcher will be required to sign a Declaration of Secrecy and will then be appointed an Officers of Statistics for the purpose of their research project.
Eligibility for accessing COVID-19 data
Only registered researchers working in registered institutions in Ireland can apply to access the COVID-19 data for valid research purposes. Applications for access will not be considered from commercial bodies. Interested researchers can read more about the eligibility criteria and application process, as well as download an application form here: Read more about how to apply.