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Breaking down barriers to research in the NHS

This International Clinical Trials Day, the RCP has published a consensus statement outlining how NHS trusts and industry can better work together to overcome barriers to conducting clinical research.  

International clinical Trials Day is celebrated each year on 20 May. It recognises the anniversary of what is considered the first clinical trial in 1747, when James Lind began systematically investigating the causes of scurvy aboard the HMS Salisbury. 

The benefits of clinical research have never been more apparent. The development of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as treatments through the RECOVERY trial, have demonstrated how clinical research directly improves patient outcomes. 

But barriers still remain to carrying out research in the NHS. In early 2020, the RCP conducted a survey of members to identify some of those barriers. We found that time, funding and skills were key issues. There was also an inequality of access to participation in research for physicians in rural areas, women and ethnic minorities.  
Later in the year we held two workshops, one with hospital research and development departments and another with industry representatives. The aim of these conversations was to build on our survey, identify additional barriers to research in the NHS and think about solutions. 

From these discussions, a consensus statement was agreed that identified four areas for action. Together they will enable the NHS and industry to work better together to support clinical research and improved treatments for patients. 

  1. The need for better joint planning between hospitals and industry 
  2. Improving staff capacity for research  
  3. Better patient involvement and engagement  
  4. More efficient trials  

Welcoming the statement, Matthew Peak, co-chair of UKRD, said: 

“R&D leaders in the NHS are committed to working in partnership with the commercial sector to deliver high quality research that benefits patients locally, nationally and internationally. The UKRD community is keen to progress the themes highlighted in this statement. 

“We will do that through proactive engagement with the commercial sector, sharing best practice models of increasing NHS healthcare professional capacity for research, supporting meaningful patient engagement and involvement and enabling real world implementation of novel efficient trial designs and processes.” 

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) also supported the statement, with Colette Goldrick, Executive Director of Strategy, Research & Partnerships commenting:

“The ABPI is committed to working with our members and partners across the health and care system to ensure all patients have the opportunity to take part in clinical research, regardless of where they live, their gender or their ethnicity.

“COVID-19 has underlined how global research is essential for health systems to plan for and combat public health threats. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen more patients, staff and NHS sites engaged in clinical research than ever before – with the benefits of research activity now more widely understood and appreciated.

“We welcome the RCP statement and must now build on progress to enable patients to benefit across all disease areas and ensure that research is central to the NHS mission. The current Health and Care Bill creates a once-in-a-decade opportunity to do just that by embedding a research requirement into the new NHS Integrated Care System structures. This must be accompanied by research resourcing and practical support at national and system level for the development of staff skills.”

For more information on the RCP's work to develop, deliver and drive research in the NHS, please visit our Research and Innovation Hub.


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