BLOG - Reflections from SafePod Network and HDR UK Scotland Webinar

I was delighted to attend the Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) webinar on 18 April, which showcased data access throughout Scotland, highlighting the SafePod Network. Attendees enjoyed hearing from a wide range of contributors who presented their research and described the challenges of needing safe and secure access to data, in order to carry out data analysis to contribute to their research.  

The Chair for the day was Dr Katie Wilde, HDR UK Scotland Co-Director who welcomed all the attendees, and asked everyone to refer to the Agenda, which highlighted a great afternoon had been planned.

Introduction to SafePod Network

The first presentation was Darren Lightfoot, SafePod Network Manager who discussed:

- What is a SafePod? A SafePod is a standardised safe setting that provides the security and controls for data that requires secure access for research.  A SafePod includes a door control access system, CCTV, a researcher area for dataset analysis, secure IT cupboard and a height adjustable desk.

- What is the SafePod Network (SPN)The SPN provides researchers with standardised safe settings (SafePods) across the UK for data that requires secure access for research. It's main advantage is that having a network of over 20 SafePods, ensures that researchers have the convenience of accessing datasets from their local institution, rather than having to visit facilities in southern England. 

- Any other benefits to organisations hosting a SafePod? A SafePod can support access to datasets from multiple Data Centres across the UK, as well as provide a pleasant working environment for a researcher. 

- What is the process of making a SafePod bookingPrior to a researcher gaining access to data through the SafePod Network, they must first of all complete the Researcher Questionnaire, and confirm that they have a project with one of 7 Data Centres that requires a safe setting for dataset access before a SafePod can be booked and used. 

- What is in development for the future? Darren discussed that they have designed a SafePoint and will be applying for funding from either the Data Centres or through their current funder ESRC. They are also looking at developing an international research project.

Please find a copy of Darren's presentation here - An Introduction to the SafePod Network.

Presentations from Researchers

The next presenter was Yu Aoki, from the University of Aberdeen who gave a really interesting presentation on her research that investigated how the level of competency of the English language affected the socioeconomic integration of immigrants in the UK. Yu Aoki used data from three datasets via the ONS, and described having access to a SafePod locally, was life changing!

She felt that having a SafePod in Aberdeen:

Removed the inequalities in data access that had existed before, where people often had to find the resources (budget and time) to be able to travel to London or Fareham to access data. The installation of the SafePod removed that inequality, enabling researchers to have secure access to confidential data locally. 

Her research findings did show that there was strong evidence that better English skills did:

  • improve educational attainment;
  • improve adult health
  • reduce the chance of becoming a teenage mother

Please find a copy of Yu Aoki's presentation here - Social integration of UK migrants: the role of English language skills.


Research Support Services

Whilst we had several other research presentations, all of which were very interesting and can be watched via the recording of the afternoon, I thought it would be helpful to summarise Suhail Iqbal's presentation (as he works for the Public Health Scotland's eDRIS team), and who delivered a very upbeat and positive presentation explaining that PHS is leading and supporting work to prevent diseases, which includes providing a wealth of datasets, that cover from cradle to grave, which are accessible to researchers using the appropriate pathway for data access.

Suhail also gave a great explanation on the investment and the collaborations that occur behind the scenes, from a variety of partners:

  • ADR Scotland, who is transforming how public sector data in Scotland is curated, accessed and explored, so it can deliver its full potential for policymakers and for the public.
  • EPCC, who ensure that all data is kept safe and secure in Scotland's Safe Haven
  • NRS, who collect, preserve and produce datasets about Scotland's people and communities and
  • RDS, who aim to provide data access to researchers as quickly and securely as possible. 

Suhail concluded his presentation by providing the link to costs related to the research support service that eDRIS provide, which can be seen here: Cost of Services.

The afternoon concluded with another two excellent presentations, firstly from Phil Yule on the Integrated Data Service and secondly from Jen Campbell from Research Data Scotland, introducing the soon to be launched Research Access Service (RAS) which will provide speedy access to 9 agreed datasets, for approved researchers.



Many thanks to Katie, assisted by Serena, from HDR UK (Scotland) for organising a fantastic afternoon.

It was wonderful to hear so many presentations, covering such a wide range of topics. For anyone wishing to view the full workshop, please access the recording of the afternoon here - ​mp4 icon HDR UK SafePod Workshop

Thanks to all presenters and it was so good to hear such fantastic feedback on the SafePod Network; it certainly seems to have had a positive impact. I look forward to hearing about the future developments. 





This article was published on 30 Apr 2024


Jane Barr