New centre for research into health information at Swansea University in Wales

Swansea 27 November 2006Swansea University's School of Medicine has set up a Health Information Research Unit (HIRU) to harness the research potential of routinely collected health and social care data. The research centre builds on the success of the iLAB, the Royal College of Physicians' patient activity data centre, set up at the School in 2004 to support consultant clinicians' information needs, and a number of other health informatics initiatives in the School. HIRU brings together a wide range of expertise in health informatics from across the School of Medicine, including information science, statistics, computing, mathematical modelling, epidemiology, and research methodology, to address important research topics. Minister for Health and Social Care, Dr Brian Gibbons, officially inaugurated the centre, at the HIRU launch event at the Marriott Hotel, Swansea.


Minister for Health and Social Care, Dr. Brian Gibbons, officially inaugurated the centre, at the HIRU launch event at the Marriott Hotel, Swansea. Swansea University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Richard B Davies, stated: "It is difficult to underestimate the significance of these developments. Integrating research and professional practice through routinely collected data will provide limitless opportunities for better understanding illness and disease and hence improving both preventative measures and treatment."

"In particular, this integration will allow us to harness modern data analyses methods and the capacity of high performance computers to address many of the challenging problems in medicine and health. I am proud to see this world-leading work going on at Swansea", he continued.

Dr. Gibbons stated: "Our 10-year strategy for improving the health service in Wales, Designed for Life, highlights the importance of research and development, especially in providing a strong evidence-base for planning, delivering and evaluating effective health and social services. Research and development is critical in all parts of life and no more so than in health and social care. New technologies and innovations mean that patients are continuing to get better, faster and less invasive treatment. In Wales, the NHS already works closely with universities and business to ensure we get this good, high-quality research."

"Throughout the NHS in Wales, staff are routinely involved in developing innovative ideas but the challenge is to ensure that these ideas are successfully captured and exploited to the benefit of patients and staff", Dr. Gibbons stated. "With funding from the Welsh Assembly Government the Health Information Research Unit will further enhance Wales' research capabilities which will ultimately help improve patient care and the working environment for health professionals."

David Ford, Executive Director of CHIRAL, who leads HIRU with his colleague Ronan Lyons, added: "The NHS spends a lot of time and energy collecting huge amounts of information, but really doesn't do a lot with it in terms of research. Our job is to bring it all together and link it all up to answer research questions that contribute to better health."

HIRU is based at CHIRAL, the School's Centre for Health Information, Research and Evaluation. It is funded by a three-year grant of nearly GBP700.000 from the Welsh Assembly Government's Wales Office of Research and Development for Health and Social Care. It forms part of the Clinical Research Collaboration Cymru, Wales' new research infrastructure and works closely with research groups and research networks in Wales, NHS organisations across the United Kingdom, and departments of central government. Behind HIRU is a strong partnership with the information agencies of the NHS and the Welsh Assembly Government.

The main purpose of HIRU is to link together routinely-held, completely anonymous information about the use of public services to create an information warehouse on the health and health care of the population. Data from other sectors that influence health can be analysed and used to support, develop and conduct research into new medicines, technologies and services, deprivation and disease, housing, transport, and environmental exposures.

Initially, much of the research will focus on areas important to the NHS Wales including diabetes, older people, mental health, epilepsy, dementia, children, injuries, immediate care, and learning disability. HIRU will process data using the Blue C supercomputer, which is one of the fastest computers in Europe dedicated to Life Science research.

Advanced data mining techniques, data modelling systems and analytical approaches will be employed to deliver answers to complex research questions in a secure environment, using carefully anonymised data.

Leslie Versweyveld

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