Our History

SAIL Databank has a rich history and we are constantly evolving to provide word-leading support for research communities to access, link and analyse routinely collected health and administrative data within a safe and secure remote access environment.



The Health Informatics Research Unit (HIRU) was launched in November 2006.

Core funding was provided by Health & Care Research Wales.

HIRU was led by Professors David Ford and Ronan Lyons.


The SAIL Databank pilot study

With approval of Health and Care Research Wales and in partnership with a few data providers, a pilot study was conducted in the local area around Swansea in West Wales using Patient Episode Database Wales (PEDW) of in-patient stays, GP data from practices in the area, and Local Authority social services data.

The results of the pilot were used to develop and refine methods of data extraction, transportation, storage and analysis, and to build a prototype solution.

A robust governance model is established with privacy by design. Principles:

  1. secure data transportation
  2. reliable record matching
  3. anonymization and encryption of identifiable data
  4. disclosure control
  5. controlling data access
  6. scrutiny of proposal and results
  7. external IG verification


A formal process for obtaining permission for data usage from participating organisations was established.

We developed a formal partnership with Digital Health and Care Wales as the Trusted Third Party (TTP) for SAIL Databank.

Prior to national roll-out, we met and consulted with wide-ranging government, regulatory and professional agencies on the acceptability of a data linkage system.

A small team of approximately 10 staff including the directors was established to design, manage and operate SAIL Databank.


Online access

Until 2011, data could only be accessed on site. As the user base expanded, we needed a more practical solution. The SAIL Gateway was developed and implemented.

The Gateway uses a secure virtual environment and remote desktop protocol so that data can be accessed safely anywhere in the world.

This attracted more data users and greater investment, including multi-million pound centres such as the MRC-funded CIPHER and the ESRC-funded ADRC.


Funding acquired for new building

Funding was secured for a new Data Science Building (DSB), a world-class centre in eHealth and administrative data research, training and development with powerful, robust, state of the art data linkage and analysis facilities.

It opened in summer 2015 and brings two exciting Centres of Excellence together under one roof – the £9.3 million Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research and the new £8 million Administrative Data Research Centre Wales (ADRC Wales), enabling researchers to work together to unleash the potential of large scale data to conduct powerful new research.

The 2900sqm research facility was made possible by the funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Welsh Government.

Achieved the prestigious ISO27001 certification in 2015.


10 Year Anniversary!

DSB has approx. 100 staff.

The data held within SAIL Databank has increased both in volume and types.

As well as structured microdata, SAIL Databank is increasingly working with emerging data types such as geographic, free-text and genetic data within the secure environment.

The expertise and technology developed as part of SAIL Databank has widely influenced new systems and enabled the creation of the UK Secure Research Platform.
10 Year Anniversary!


COVID-19 & the ‘One Wales’ response

COVID-19 affected every facet of daily life. Many of the services, processes & events that we often take for granted were disrupted, delayed or abandoned altogether. The team behind SAIL Databank worked tirelessly to ensure that scientists, researchers and data users continue to do what they do best; using real-world data to examine and determine new ways in which to improve people’s lives.

Data security and a strict set of governance principles are defining characteristics of SAIL Databank. And, of course, these protocols remained water-tight during the pandemic, but the commitment and pragmatism of the SAIL Databank team meant that data was being made available for research in as quickly as 48 hours in some cases.


One Wales consisted of colleagues from within the Population Data Science group and across Wales including HDR UKADR WalesSAIL DatabankADPBREATHE, Welsh Government, Public Health Wales, Sociail Care Wales and Digital Health and Care Wales. This agile and responsive approach to tackling data analysis and intelligence generation based on both the constant and newly developing priorities for tackling COVID-19 in Wales.


Providing Student Access to SAIL Databank

In 2022, Swansea University 3rd year Medical School students were given access to SAIL Databank as part of their 3rd year Capstone viva projects.

The SAIL Databank team developed a streamlined programme in coordination with the Faculty of Medicine, Health & Life Science at Swansea University to provide a set of defined and approved research projects which students and their supervisors could access, under the same rules and requirements as other SAIL projects.

Through this access to real-world anonymised individual-level population-scale data, students benefit from the vast repository of health, social and administrative data held within SAIL and gain experience in navigating the robust access procedures of a privacy-protecting Trusted Research Environment (TRE) to which all SAIL users are subject. Alongside this, they receive guidance and supervisory support from experts within Population Data Science at Swansea University Medical School, who recognise the need to grow the workforce capacity in this field.



Event Highlights: Cross Party Group on Medical Research at the Senedd

SAIL Showcase Webinar Series – June 2024