Developing an innovative residential linkage tool for Scotland

Chris Dibben, Director of the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR), part of ADR Scotland, worked closely with Public Health Scotland to allow households and their precise geographic location to be identified in health and other datasets by linking Community Health Index (CHI) and Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN). This new residential linkage too - named the CURL tool - has already enhanced numerous research studies and is being developed further by Scottish Government.

Pandemic Response

During the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been paramount for government and health agencies to have detailed information quickly. In order to understand transmission, it was especially important to understand who was living together. Through the CHI-UPRN residential linkage, it is possible to explore the many issues where the household is an important factor by grouping individual records into units with the same UPRN. This has been particularly important to enhance insights during the pandemic, for example, in relation to care homes.

Albert King, Chief Data Officer for Scottish Government, remarked: "The work you have led in developing tools to enable administrative data research, such as your work on linking data to property locations, enables a better understanding of settings, such as care homes or households, in turn enabling vital Covid-19 research and understanding for Government."

The CURL tool enhanced the data used for the key Scottish Government report Discharges from NHS Scotland Hospitals to Care Homes. In October 2020, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport in Scotland at the time, Jeane Freedman, commented on the importance of the data: "I commissioned this report because it is right that residents, families, staff, and Parliament, have accurate data and independent analysis on the transfer of patients to care homes and the impact that had in those care homes […] The data from this report gives us a better understanding of the impact of discharges on outbreaks in care homes."

Wider Government Use

The value of the CURL tool has been recognised by Scottish Government, which has led to a further project to extend its use. The project, supported by the Covid-19 Data and Intelligence Network, is investigating how CHI-UPRN linkages can be maintained, regularly updated and used operationally. 

The development of the tool has also brought into focus the need to ensure that UPRN links are embedded into the address fields of all public sector databases and has influenced practice and planning in this area, for example the CHI upgrade in 2022.

Sustainable Research Tool 

The CURL tool provides a long-term, sustainable resource available for researchers across Scotland and is already being used in a range of data linkage projects to enhance analysis and insights.

David Clark from Public Health Scotland explains: "CHI has long been used as a population spine for patient-level data linkage in health based projects, but the addition of a property level dimension through CURL opens up exciting new avenues for researchers."

This tool highlights the value of methodological innovations in data linkage for the benefit of Government, health bodies and the research community.

Find out more about the tool and how to access it in SCADR's introductory guide.

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