A new report released by the National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network (the clinical research delivery arm of the NHS) shows that more than 630,000 NHS patients in England took part in clinical research studies last year—the highest level since the Network began keeping track six years ago.
Clinical research is a vital part of the work of the NHS, and a commitment to conduct, promote and use clinical research to improve patient care is part of the NHS England Constitution.
Funded by the Department of Health, the NIHR Clinical Research Network supports the delivery of clinical research in the NHS in England, by providers of NHS services with research nurses to identify suitable patients and carry out the clinical activities required by the studies. It also provides funds to cover the cost of using scanners, x-rays and other equipment for research purposes.
For the past six years, the Network has been collecting data on the number of patients who volunteer to take part in clinical research studies and has seen the trend for participation increase each year.
“According to our latest poll, 79% of people think it is important for the NHS to carry out clinical research—whilst less than 3% think it is unimportant,” said Dr. Jonathan Sheffield, chief executive of the NIHR Clinical Research Network. “There is huge public support out there for research, but there also needs to be a good mechanism for identifying patients who are suitable for particular studies and asking them if they would like to get involved. The NIHR Clinical Research Network’s nurses provide that mechanism, and through their work we have seen the annual number of patients taking part in clinical research triple over the last six years. That is fantastic news.”
Sheffield said 99% of NHS Trusts in England now carry out some clinical research studies, but he still believes there is more to do. “Our vision is for participation in a clinical research study to be a treatment option for all patients, no matter where they are treated or what condition they have,” he said. “We are still a way off that, but with the number of patients involved in clinical research up 7% last year, things are heading in the right direction.”
Derek Stewart, a cancer survivor and an advocate of the role that patients can play in improving treatments through participation in clinical research, said, “Taking part in clinical research can be very empowering for patients, so the fact that we have more people than ever participating in clinical studies is very positive. I would like to encourage more patients to ask their consultant or family doctor about whether taking part in a clinical research study is right for them.”
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally C. Davies, said, “I am very pleased that NHS Trusts are embracing the research agenda, and that yet again we have seen the level of patient participation in clinical research studies increase. This shows that the infrastructure the government has put in place for clinical research delivery is working effectively and, most importantly, generating valuable opportunities for patients to take part in studies.”