Using SHIP

The benefits of data access through SHIP

Training in information governance skills

SHIP provides an online distance learning module, delivered by University of Edinburgh Law School’s highly respected distance learning platform.  This module will equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to feel confident that you understand your own responsibilities and opportunities, as well as those of data custodians and authorising bodies, when it comes to using health care data for research.  Completion of the module will also permit you to be registered as a SHIP-approved researcher.  Obtaining approved researcher status will permit you to access data through SHIP.  You can register for the distance learning module here.

This toolkit itself provides many of the resources through which SHIP aims to support researchers in adopting optimal information governance practices while making the most of health-related data to pursue valuable high-quality research.  Further information on the processes referred to below, as well as the respective roles of all the parties involved, can be found throughout this toolkit.

Applying to access data for research uses

SHIP is a one-stop-shop which streamlines the application process for accessing health care data for research purposes and helps researchers to include the right kind of information in their access requests the first time round.  Using SHIP will make the process of making an application more efficient and effective in several key ways: 

  • SHIP’s Research Coordinator will liaise with the Principal Investigator to advise them on the development of a feasible project proposal, likely data availability, and any particular privacy risks associated with the data sought and possible ways to mitigate these
  • SHIP will also simplify the approval procedure, so that for each project the Principle Investigator will only need to submit one data access request.  SHIP’s Research Coordinator will then ensure that this request is channelled through all the necessary approval routes.  You will then sign-up to a single Data Sharing Agreement which will clearly set out the conditions under which you may use the data
  • SHIP’s Research Coordinator will also be able to advise Principle Investigators about the information that ought to be included in a robust data access application to make sure that it contains sufficient detail to permit SHIP to assign the application to the appropriate privacy risk category and to permit the appropriate independent authorisation body to make a fully informed decision on whether to authorise access.

This route-map will guide you step-by-step through the process of making a request to access data using SHIP.

Ensuring optimal information governance during your project

During the course of your research project SHIP will support your adherence to the data security standards that are required in law and are appropriate to the ethical governance of confidential health records.  Using SHIP as the route through which you access data for research will help make your data uses more secure in the following ways:

  • SHIP ensures that the research purposes for which data use is permitted have received the highest appropriate level of formal approval.
  • SHIP offers a Safe Haven service, as recommended by the UK Ministry of Justice’s 2008 Data Sharing Review Report.
  • SHIP’s research coordinators can advise Principle Investigators when use of a safe haven might enhance your application to access data and when it may be unnecessary.
  • Using a SHIP safe haven will help to reduce the privacy risk category of your data access request.  You will have an option of requesting the use of a safe haven.  Data custodians will also be able to make use of a safe haven a condition of researchers accessing the data they are responsible for.
  • SHIP safe havens provide a data indexing and linkage service to anonymise or partially anonymise the data.  This means that you only access data at the level of person-identifiability needed for your particular research aims and as set out in your Data Sharing Agreement .
  • Although, it will not remove all your responsibilities in terms of respecting the confidentiality of personal information, using a SHIP safe haven will mean that you do not have to take on the legal responsibilities of a ‘data controller’ under data protection legislation  .
  • The safe haven performs statistical disclosure control on the results of your analysis before releasing these results to you and then automatically archives the datasets.
  • The safe haven also acts as a repository for all the necessary documentation and approvals for data linkage.
  • Even if not using a SHIP safe haven SHIP will oversee the transfer of the dataset to you and will provide data archiving and statistical disclosure control services.

The route-map ‘Managing data security through the life of a project’ within this Toolkit will guide you step-by-step through the required considerations and process of accessing data using SHIP whether this is done through a safe haven or through a data transfer

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The role of SHIP research co-ordinators

The SHIP Research Coordinator is a professional with experience of managing information governance in health care settings.  The Coordinator works on behalf of SHIP to advise and support researchers and to oversee the safe sharing of health care data for research purposes through SHIP.

The specific roles of a SHIP Research Coordinator are:

  • To liaise with principal investigators to:
    • provide practical assistance in developing a feasible research proposal
    • provide information on what past research has been done in the area
    • help identify the associated data requirements and which existing and potential data sources may be available
    • and to advise the likely privacy risk category to which the project proposal will be assigned, including whether use of a safe haven is likely to be a requirement, and what level of approval will be needed for their project
  • To negotiate with data custodians on behalf of researchers
  • To assign the appropriate privacy risk category to a data access request using transparent SHIP criteria and thus to determine the level of formal approval required
  • To administer SHIP processes, including
    • verification of SHIP approved researcher status
    • signing and logging of research proposals and SHIP Data Sharing Agreements in the SHIP Project Management System
    • overseeing the transfers of data from the data custodian to SHIP and onwards to the SHIP safe haven, or where appropriate, directly to the principle investigator
    • overseeing processes for statistical data control and data archiving upon the completion of projects

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Obtaining SHIP approved researcher status

Before being permitted access to datasets through SHIP, whether this is via a safe haven or through direct transfer, researchers must gain the status of an ‘approved researcher’. 

In order to gain approved researcher status you must:

  1. Be associated with a bona fide research organisation.  SHIP maintains a register of approved organisations on which to base decisions.  The list of approved organisations can be found here.  However, if you cannot find your organisation on this list please contact SHIP’s research coordinator and an individual assessment can be made.
  2. Either be an experienced researcher, or, if you are a junior researcher, you must be working under the supervision of an experienced researcher from your own institution, for example, a Principal Investigator, your line manager or supervisor.
  3. You must have successfully completed the SHIP distance learning module within the last two years.

In addition, for any particular project approved researchers will also need:

  • To have signed a SHIP Data Sharing Agreement.
  • And if using a SHIP safe haven to access data, to have signed a standard user agreement undertaking to abide by safe haven rules.

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The SHIP data access application process

The diagram below represents the SHIP data access process. Essentially this route-map is the first stage of the process and will take you through the issues you should consider when making your data access application. More details on the process after your application has been submitted can be found in the final station of this route-map.

SHIP Data Access Request to SHIP Diagram

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