Honest Broker Service
The Honest Broker Service is the Trusted Research Environment for Health and Social Care (HSC) Northern Ireland and is hosted within the HSC Regional Business Services Organisation (RBSO/BSO).
The Honest Broker Service provides two key services:
1. The provision of anonymised patient level data for the purposes of research, with access only permitted in a controlled fashion via a safe research environment
2. The provision of anonymised, or in some cases pseudonymised, patient level data for internal customers only for the purposes of clinical audit and service evaluations.
The Honest Broker Service does not provide identifiable data for consented studies or trials.
The HBS provides approved researchers with access to linked, de-identified health data via a safe setting. The HBS works under the Five Safes Framework to protect data confidentiality. All research projects are approved by the Honest Broker Service Governance Board, projects must relate to Health and Social Care and be in the public interest in that they will support development/delivery of public policy.
The safe setting is either accessed via attendance at the Safe Haven in BSO’s headquarters in Franklin Street Belfast or via the Health Data Research Northern Ireland UK Secure e-Research Platform (HDRNI UK SeRP).
The service provides secure project areas where researchers can collaborate, link data, share code and results within their same approved research project. Researchers attending the safe haven or accessing data remotely via the HDRNI UK SeRP have access to a range of analytical and statistical tools to support the project.
Researchers carry out analysis on record level, linked data which has went through a de-identification process whereby all real world identifiers have been removed. Researchers can only access the data via the safe setting and the only information that can leave the safe setting is aggregate statistical data.
When a researcher has completed a piece of analysis they submit output requests and the HBS staff check all aggregate outputs to ensure that individual service users cannot be re-identified before authorising the release of the information to the researcher.
The HBS also provide an internal service for provision of de-identified data to the Department of Health (DoH) and Health and Social Care Northern Ireland organisations. This is an important function for reducing the amount of identifiable data that is transferred internally and processed while managing the health service.
The internal service provides access to timely pseudonymised data which is for purposes other than direct care and research. It is used for planning and commissioning, public health monitoring, clinical audit and governance, benchmarking and performance improvement.
What Data is Available?
For a high-level overview of the datasets contained in the Regional Data Warehouse, click here.
For further detail on each dataset, please contact the Honest Broker Service using the email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a list of the Metadata available in each dataset click here.
Data is routinely extracted from operational HSC systems and is loaded into the BSO Regional Data Warehouse.
Family Practitioner Services also based in the BSO provides services to General Medical, Dental, Ophthalmic and Pharmaceutical practitioners across Northern Ireland.
The majority of projects use a combination of data from the Regional Data Warehouse and Family Practitioner Services.
For ethically approved research requiring linkage to data not in the Regional Data Warehouse individual data access agreements will be required and measures put in place to protect confidentiality (such as splitting demographic and clinical data during the transfer and matching process). These projects will also require Trust research governance approval if extraction of data requires Trust resource.
Information for applying to an NHS or HSC Research Ethics Committee is available at https://www.hra.nhs.uk/approvals-amendments/what-approvals-do-i-need/research-ethics-committee-review/applying-research-ethics-committee/
Who can apply to use the Service
- HSC Organisations which have signed up to the Memorandum of Understanding
- Researchers (For information on the cost recovery model click here.
How to Apply to use the Service
Download the relevant application form and guidance documents here:
As part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic we have been working with Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) as a delivery partner for the Data and Connectivity strand of the National Core Studies. A range of key datasets related to COVID-19 are held in the data warehouse and access for research projects has been facilitated via the Honest Broker Service (for example monitoring the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine).
The link below takes you to a brochure which provides more information.
HDR UK have just launched a new funding call in conjunction with the Alan Turing Institute, which closes on 1st October 2021. Applicants are expected to make use of the infrastructure developed as part of the Dara and Connectivity work programme and to apply to the various UK wide Trust Research Environments for access to data,
You can now also browse HSCNI meta data on the HDR Innovation Gateway and can apply to access data from a range of Trusted Research Environments across the UK via the gateway via an online application form.
Currently this is reserved for research into COVID-19 however as the gateway develops it will be possible to apply to access Honest Broker Service data for non-COVID research also. Enquiries and applications submitted via the gateway are dealt with by the HBS team and go through the standard Honest Broker Service Governance Board approval process.
Governance and Transparency
During the development of the Honest Broker Service the then Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety consulted with the Information Commissioner’s Officer (ICO). The ICO provided input to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and this input shaped the design and content of the final document. The MOU was subsequently signed by ever Health and Social Care Organisation in Northern Ireland, and a copy is available here.
The most recent update to the MOU was around the implementation of remote access via the HDRNI Secure e-Research Platform.
The Service was established in line with the ICO’s Anonymisation Code of Practice and ICO continues to engage with the Honest Broker Governance Board to ensure the Board are aware of the relevant requirements of data protection and confidentiality law.
The Honest Broker Governance Board is responsible for approving all Honest Broker Service research projects. The Governance Board has been established to ensure good Information Governance and that data will be provided in line with Data Protection legislation, Confidentiality Requirements and the Information Commissioner’s Office Codes of Practice. The Honest Broker service recognises the important of protecting personal and confidential information, and takes care to meet its legal duties. The minutes of the governance board meetings are published on the website and the Privacy Notice details how we use personal data, can be found here.
A full list of our current projects can be found via the menu on this page as well as links to publications and outputs from previous research projects.
Information on research papers that have been published as a result of using data provided through the Honest Broker can be found here.