Q: What is the HEAF study?

HEAF stands for the Health and Employment After Fifty Study. This is a study of older working-age people who were patients at 24 selected general practices across England when they were recruited in 2013/14. Participants agreed to receive annual questionnaires concerning their health, work status, perceptions about work, retirement and other factors, including changes over time. Participants also agreed that the MRC research team could have access to their anonymised clinical information from their NHS health records to help supplement the information in the questionnaires.

Q: How long will the study last?

We have been sending out questionnaires annually for the last 4 years, and have consent from the participants to continue for at least another two years. With further funding and renewed consent we hope that the study will continue for some years to come. The HEAF study has been progressing really well with over 6,100 participants still returning their questionnaire each year – thank you!

Q: Why was I invited to take part in this study?

Our research is focused on the older working-age population (those between 50 and 65 years old) whether they are working or not. Using GP practices who link their data anonymously with the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) we invited patients to join the study if they were born between 1948 and 1962, and were registered with 24 selected general practices from across England. We wanted participation from as many people as possible from different areas of England, so that the findings would be representative and reliable.

Q: What is the point of the study?

Good question! The aim of the study is to find out how health affects people’s ability to work in different types of job at older ages, and also whether continuing to work to older ages is good or bad for health, and how. Our aim is that the findings of the research (which will be published in the medical press) will influence planning of Government policy on employment at older ages, and help to ensure that older people will neither be denied opportunities to work where it would be good for them nor forced to work in jobs which are bad for their health.

We especially want to answer three main questions:

  1. What is the impact of health on work at older ages?
  2. What factors influence participation in work at older ages?
  3. What impact does job loss have on people over 50?

Q: What information is collected in the HEAF study

Annual questionnaires are used to collect information concerning our participants mental and physical health, work status, thoughts about work and retirement, and other demographic factors (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity) and lifestyle choices (e.g. smoking and physical activity), and this obviously includes changes over time. Health information in the form of coded data is provided by the CPRD. We only collect information that is vital and useful for our research into work and health.

Q: How is information about me stored and used?

Computer Manager Vanessa Cox and her team of programmers and data processors computerise all the information provided to us and store it securely. All organisations in the UK are bound by the terms of the Data Protection Act 1998, soon be superseded by the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This requires us to be transparent about how we use data and to handle personal information only in ways one could reasonably expect. We would like to assure you that:

  • All the information we hold about our participants is securely stored and strictly confidential.
  • Data about health are stored separately from details of identity. A unique serial number is used to link the two.
  • Although we sometimes share data with other carefully vetted collaborating researchers, we never tell them anything that would enable them to identify our participants.
  • Our participants will not be identifiable in any reports or publications.

Q: What checks are built into the system?

  • All of our research is required to be approved by an Independent Ethics Committee. The ethics committee who approved the HEAF study was the NHS National Research Ethics Service (North West – Liverpool East Committee)
  • An International Scientific Advisory Committee oversees all of the studies carried out at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre, and every 5 years we are rigorously reviewed before our MRC funding is renewed.
  • Our research is conducted at the public expense and is not for commercial gain.

Q: Can our participants change their minds about taking part?

  • Of course! Taking part in the Health and Employment Study after Fifty study is voluntary and our participants are free to withdraw without giving a reason.
  • If you are a participant and wish to withdraw, please contact us at the telephone number  below or using the contact page on this website, telling us whether you wish to withdraw permanently or just to skip a round of data collection. We will also need to know whether we may keep the information we have already collected about you or if you would prefer us to destroy it.

Q: Who funds the HEAF study?

The HEAF study is funded by Arthritis Research UK, the Medical Research Council (MRC), and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Q: How can I get in touch?

For changes of address or any other queries: Please telephone 02380777624 and ask to speak to someone from the HEAF team. Alternatively, please email Stefania D’Angelo at sd@mrc.soton.ac.uk.

Regarding queries about data access: The data holders welcome bone fide research proposals for data sharing. In the first instance inquiries should be directed to Professor Nick Harvey, Director of MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre.