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Secure Anonymised Information Linkage Databank

Introduction
The Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank links together the widest possible range of person-based data using robust anonymisation techniques for health related research.  It is operated by the Health Information Research Unit (HIRU) based at Swansea University.   The Databank holds over 500 million records and continual growth is in progress. 

A list of publications that have used SAIL data is available from here.

Available datasets
There are many health related datasets held in SAIL including:

  • All Wales Injury Surveillance System
  • NHS Hospital Episode Statistics
  • NHS administrative register
  • ONS birth and deaths
  • Breast and Cervical screening data
  • Educational attainment

A full list of available datasets in SAIL is available to download from here.

Matching to other data sources
Yes, the SAIL system links together the widest possible range of person-based data using robust anonymisation techniques using a supercomputer.  SAIL analysis benefits from the use of the Anonymising Linking Field (ALF) to link across existing datasets.  The data custodian will need to give signed approval for this process. 

Software in SAIL
Researchers can access SAIL data via a secure remote desktop, which has a range of software installed to enable analysis.  This includes Microsoft Office, SPSS and an SQL editor.   Researchers are also permitted to install their own software (such as R, STATA and MLWIN) providing that they have their own licence.

Data access
All proposals to use SAIL datasets must comply with HIRU’s Information Governance policy.  To apply to use SAIL data you must contact the HIRU (details below).  You will then be sent a Data Access Agreement and Enquiry form.  Once the forms are received back, your research proposal will be considered for approval by the HIRU Collaboration Review System.  This has two main components:

  • HIRU management team – to consider the feasibility, practicality and resource implications of the proposal.
  • Information Governance Review Panel – provides independent advice to HIRU to ensure proposed work conforms to the principles of information governance.

This process usually takes 1-2 months.  If an application is successful then work will begin on the preparation of the project specific dataset.  The time that this will take depends on the complexity of the study and if additional project datasets require matching, anonymisation and loading into SAIL.

Data can be accessed remotely through the development of a secure Remote Access System which is known as the SAIL Gateway. The SAIL Gateway has a number of key features and these ensure its safe and effective operation. It has a secure firewalled network to safeguard the data, and data users are only able to access the data via remote desktops, running Windows XP in a virtualised environment (VPN). These machines operate the full remote desktop protocol with all desktop and server group policies applied. This ensures that data users cannot copy or transfer files out of the Gateway. All requests to export files are reviewed by a data guardian who scrutinises the files before release.

All users (including HIRU staff) are required to abide by and sign the HIRU Data Access Agreement.

Access to SAIL data is chargeable dependant on the complexity of data preparation and analysis.  There is also support to use the data and there are monthly forums run to help develop good practice, share knowledge an cut down on duplication of effort.

Contact information
For general enquiries and more information on the SAIL Databank please contact Cynthia McNerney, HIRU Information Governance Coordinator by email at c.l.mcnerney@swansea.ac.uk or telephone 01792 606 661.

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