19 Jun 2024

How can the technology industry help tackle challenges around Secure Data Environments?

One of the most exciting developments in the UK health data landscape of the past few years has been the introduction of the Secure Data Environment (SDE) Network.  

techUK’s Life Sciences Working Group (LSWG), a team of industry leaders working across drug discovery, digital therapeutics, data, and AI, have developed a paper outlining the challenges that Secure Data Environments are set to face in the upcoming 6 –18 months, and the ways in which the digital health and technology industry could provide valuable support and collaboration to bring the ambitious vision to fruition.  

Read our summary and download the full paper here: 

techUK SDE Challenges Paper, June 2024

The paper highlights that while the initiative poses a fantastic opportunity, it is essential to ensure that the project architecture is fit for purpose. This includes overcoming four major challenges:  

Challenge 1: Technical consistency and maturity 

The different stages of technical consistency and maturity across SDEs will likely lead to a non-interoperable patchwork of data which could hinder the SDEs functional utility. Although the SDE Network's Community of Practice is set to prevent this dynamic, the rapidly growing requirement of data at scale may still raise some challenges.  

Industry support and collaboration could provide a respite to the growing challenge by offering an early visibility and assessment of technical standards, overview of common policies, consistent data linkage, and data federation testing.  

Challenge 2: Federated approach 

As the SDE Network aims to achieve national coverage through the federation of sub-national SDEs, the standardization of data models is a crucial step to the aggregation of SDEs.  

To facilitate this transition from data sharing to access, the LSWG suggests industry collaboration with the SDE Network to investigate:  

  • how to achieve federated analytics,  

  • which dataset and resources need to be prioritised to implement the standardised data model,  

  • promote equitable data strategies,  

  • and ensure access to accreditation schemes.  

Challenge 3: Funding and Commercial Strategy  

It may be challenging for SDEs to procure substantial funding ahead of their live date and operate without exceeding the Network’s funding. Furthermore, as SDEs must become financially self-sustaining to be sustainable, the commercial model to reach this objective is not yet fully understood. Industry could help to analyse data at its source, provide insights to related data infrastructure projects and novel models of data access. 

Challenge 4: Translating Research to Operational Practice  

The SDE Network has a unique opportunity to gather the outputs and learning of the research it supports back into the NHS clinical practice. Industry expertise could provide insights on scaling processes and operationalisation of clinical processes.  


techUK’s Life Science Working Group is committed to engaging with the Data for Research & Development Programme and is grateful for the collaboration of colleagues from NHS England and DHSC. This report is a step in support of the Secure Data Environment Network and techUK will continue to facilitate further engagements to investigate the specific suggestions in further detail.  

For more information on the suggestions outlined by the Life Sciences Working Group, please access the paper below.  

techUK SDE Challenges Paper, June 2024


Members interested in getting involved can reach out to the LSWG’s techUK representative, Viola Pastorino at [email protected] 

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