IMPACT CASE STUDY- ADR Scotland: Responding to the pandemic

Since the start of the pandemic, colleagues across ADR Scotland have offered critical insights, expertise and resource to support the data-driven response to Covid-19 in Scotland.

Informing the data response

Responding to the public health emergency in March 2020, the Scottish Government set up a Data Taskforce to support operational decision-making and evidence-based policy, led by ADR Scotland Co-Director and Scotland’s Chief Statistician, Roger Halliday. This work has been continued by Scottish Government’s Covid-19 Data and Intelligence Network which focuses on enabling collaborative research and analysis for Covid-19 decision-making and understanding using data.

Professor Chris Dibben, fellow Co-Director of ADR Scotland, has taken an active role in both of these groups and continues to advise on a range of data issues and development areas, identifying key informational gaps and creating new data products derived from administrative data.

Developing a data holding

The Covid-19 data holding created an environment for key datasets to be linked safely and quickly. This was achieved at pace due to the expertise in the ADR Scotland partnership and utilised the new infrastructure developed by ADR Scotland. The Covid-19 data holding has a detailed data catalogue with 29 datasets allowing data linkage projects across Covid testing, vaccinations, NHS activity and prescribing, vital events, 2011 census, and schools. This has already supported 72 approved research projects since the pandemic.

ADR Scotland and partners have worked with a range of public sector bodies to advise on how to prepare and upload their data to the service, and continue to provide specialist support to data controllers and researchers seeking to use the Covid-19 data holding.

Responsive Research

ADR Scotland researchers have pivoted their research to respond to policy-critical areas namely around community based Covid-19 mortality, policing the pandemic and a commissioned project by Scottish Government on risk factors for Covid-19. Our researchers have also developed a new household linkage variable – the CURL tool – which has helped enhance understanding of household transmission during the pandemic. Such research highlights the value of administrative data research and linkage to answer pressing policy questions and gaps and, in the longer term, aims to explore the effects of the pandemic over time through longitudinal analyses.

Future Acquisition and Access

Whilst these arrangements have been put in place for research around Covid-19, we have been thinking through what the legacy is from the development and learning that went into setting this up. There is increased confidence from data controllers in the arrangements in place to ensure data is kept safe and used appropriately. This also allows us to illustrate the benefit of this kind of research to wider audiences who can directly see how this work has public benefit.

The pandemic has enabled us to do more with our public sector data assets and develop long term solutions for cost-effective and timely access to data for research, which we will continue to develop as part of ADR Scotland and in shaping Research Data Scotland.

Dr Gregor Smith, Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Scottish Government commented:

As CMO for Scotland, I’ve seen first-hand how data and evidence was crucial to our efforts to respond well to the pandemic. Having linked data available for research at pace was vital for our understanding of the factors underpinning the impact and risks associated with Covid-19, the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, as well as the wider societal and economic impact of the pandemic. As Governments think through renewal and recovery, linked administrative data is only going to become more important and must be given appropriate priority. As such, ADR UK will continue to play a central role in establishing the evidence base to do this.