Open Access Research article

Consenting to health record linkage: evidence from a multi-purpose longitudinal survey of a general population

Gundi Knies1*, Jonathan Burton1 and Emanuela Sala2

Author Affiliations

1 ISER, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, Essex CO4 3SQ, UK

2 University of Milano Bicocca, Milan, Italy

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BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:52  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-52

Published: 5 March 2012



The British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) is the first long-running UK longitudinal survey with a non-medical focus and a sample covering the whole age range to have asked for permission to link to a range of administrative health records. This study determines whether informed consent led to selection bias and reflects on the value of the BHPS linked with health records for epidemiological research.


Multivariate logistical regression is used, with whether the respondent gave consent to data linkage or not as the dependent variable. Independent variables were entered as four blocks; (i) a set of standard demographics likely to be found in most health registration data, (ii) a broader set of socio-economic characteristics, (iii) a set of indicators of health conditions and (iv) information about the use of health services.


Participants aged 16-24, males and those living in England were more likely to consent. Consent is not biased with respect to socio-economic characteristics or health. Recent users of GP services are underrepresented among consenters.


Whilst data could only be linked for a minority of BHPS participants, the BHPS offers a great range of information on people's life histories, their attitudes and behaviours making it an invaluable source for epidemiological research.