Our vision for research in the NHS

Posted on May 15, 2013 by

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Today, we are launching our vision for research in the NHS. We are also sharing the findings of a survey of the attitudes and research experiences of almost 400 healthcare professionals working in the NHS in England commissioned by Arthritis Research UK, AMRC, Breast Cancer Campaign and the British Heart Foundation.

We found that while healthcare professionals appear to be universally agreed that the NHS should support research into treatments for patients, they are less sure of their own role. Many have experienced barriers to taking part in research, and some lack confidence in talking about research with their patients, and are not familiar with resources and organisations that can help them get involved. We also found that many healthcare professionals are rarely asked about research opportunities by their patients.

To address these challenges, we have developed a vision for research in the NHS which lays out practical steps NHS bodies and those working with the NHS can take to create an NHS where:

  • Every patient is offered opportunities to be involved in research
  • All NHS staff see the importance of research
  • The NHS conducts high-quality research and adopts new treatments.

We hope this will begin an ongoing conversation between all partners supporting medical research, helping us to work in partnership to promote research and the rapid adoption of new treatments throughout the NHS to benefit patients.

What did our survey find?

Jointly with Arthritis Research UK, Breast Cancer Campaign and the British Heart Foundation, we commissioned ComRes to survey NHS healthcare professionals – GPs, Nurses and Hospital Doctors – to better understand their experiences of, and attitudes towards, research.

We found that while there was near universal agreement that the it is important for the NHS to support research, 91% had experienced barriers to taking part in research – including lack of time (62%), funding (30%), practical support (27%) and difficulties navigating regulation (24%).

And while the majority believed that it is very important for the NHS to support research into treatments for patients, they were less sure of their own role with less than a quarter of GPs (22%) feeling that it was important for them to be involved personally. For these GPs, lack of time was a key issue, with nearly three quarters (73%) naming it as a barrier preventing them from getting involved in research. This is particularly concerning as GPs represent the main NHS contact with patients, so they can play a vital role by giving patients opportunities to take part in research, conducting innovative research themselves and facilitating research through commissioning.

On the other hand patients tell us they are keen to take part in research, especially in clinical trials. 72% of the people we asked in a MORI poll in 2011 told us that they would like to be offered opportunities to be involved in trials of new medicines or treatments if they suffered from a health condition that affects their day-to-day life.

But over half (53%) of healthcare professionals we asked told us they are asked by their patients about research opportunities less than once a year, if at all.

In fact, NIHR has just launched a campaign to address this and encourage people to ask about research. It’s OK to ask has been launched to mark clinical trials day which is next Monday, 20th May. The campaign is aimed at patients, medical professionals and the public to promote the fact that it’s OK to ask about clinical research.

But it is important that when they are asked by their patients about research, healthcare professionals are confident to talk about it. Many of those we polled told us they lack this confidence, with a third of nurses (31%) and GPs (34%) telling us that they are not very or not at all confident. Luckily lots of resources do exist for clinicians about medical research and how they and their patients can get involved. Many healthcare professionals reported using them but a fifth (20%) told us they don’t use any of the tailored information resources available and only around half of those asked knew something about the NIHR or NIHR Clinical Research Network.

So what are we doing about this?

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 for the first time placed duties on the Secretary of State, the new NHS England and Clinical Commissioning Groups to promote and support research in the NHS.

Everyone at the top is convinced of the case for making research a core role of the NHS and the NHS Constitution promises NHS patients that they will be “informed of research studies in which you may be eligible to participate”. But the question now is whether the NHS is ready and capable of implementing these grand ideas.

Our survey shows that we still have quite a way to go if we are going to ensure that every patients is offered the opportunity to take part in research, that all NHS staff see the importance of research and that the NHS conducts high-quality research and adopts new treatments rapidly to improve patient care. We are concerned that these duties to promote research must deliver in practice.

That is why, over the past six months we have worked in collaboration with our members and the wider medical and research communities to develop our vision for research in the NHS. This provides a clear set of guidelines that should help overcome some of the barriers patients, NHS staff and funders currently experience, enabling hiqh-quality research to become an integral part of what the NHS does.

We describe how every patient should be offered opportunities to take part in research wherever they live – from finding out about opportunities, helping identify questions that need to be answered to improve their care and shaping the design of research projects, to self-referring their interest to take part.

How all NHS staff should have the time, training and resources to be able to take part in research, and use research evidence to inform the care they give to their patients. That their research experience should be valued and rewarded and they should be given information and opportunities to become more involved in research should they want to.

And how all NHS bodies should share knowledge, accelerating the translation of research findings into improvements for patients and quickly adopting findings. And how the NHS can be open for research – fostering the development of research leaders and infrastructure, and ensuring the process of funding research in the NHS is clear and easy to navigate.

Our full report is packed with case studies of great work already underway to embed research throughout the NHS, involving patients and NHS staff. We’ve also produced a neat little summary of the calls.

What next?

Our vision and the findings of our survey are being launched in parliament this morning at a meeting of health-focused APPG Chairs, demonstrating that research is integral to improving treatments for people with all health conditions.

We recognise that we will all play a role in shaping the NHS of the future and this vision sets out practical steps that we can all take to promote this. We will be sharing the vision with those working in and with the NHS.

We hope this will begin an ongoing conversation between all partners supporting medical research, helping us to work in partnership to promote research and the rapid adoption of new treatments throughout the NHS to benefit patients.