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Getting into clinical research in the NHS

Dr Chee-Seng Yee, consultant rheumatologist at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, offers advice on how to develop research activities. 

Since joining the trust in 2011, I have facilitated the rapid growth and progression of research activity in my department with the number of research studies increasing from one to 21 (nine of which are clinical trials) and the number of participants recruited increasing from zero to 195 as of 31 January 2017.

How did I manage to achieve this in a district general hospital setting? It is not that difficult. Here are some pearls of wisdom:

Be part of a team

Research is teamwork, not something done on your own in isolation. Hence you will need a team. Build a team if there is not one or join one and develop your role from there. Anyone can be part of the team, from doctors to allied health professionals (such as nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists) and not forgetting administrative staff (including research and development managers).

Research is teamwork, not something done on your own in isolation.

Dr Chee-Seng Yee, consultant rheumatologist

Research is a fantastic learning opportunity for clinical staff to learn about the disease and practice of clinical research. As such, do not forget about the involvement of middle grade and junior doctors as this represents an excellent training opportunity.

Start networking

Network internally within the hospital to build your team and also to collaborate with other disciplines and specialties. Don’t be closed to the idea of expanding your team beyond your department or unit. 

Externally, get involved in research groups, special interest groups and in committees within specialty societies or colleges. This is an opportunity to meet researchers to bring in research studies and to develop an idea into a research project.

Know your team’s capability and capacity

You need to know what your team can do and deliver. In research, the proof of the pudding is whether you can deliver – which is about achieving targets. Therefore, be realistic when it comes to setting targets for research studies. Don’t be overambitious. 

It is also important to pace your research activity progression carefully and ensure that it suits everyone in the team. Don’t overcommit; it is fine to say no. 

I would recommend starting with less intensive research studies and gradually progressing to more intensive studies, with clinical trials being highly intensive studies.

Develop a database

I think it is extremely useful to have a disease database of your patients, in accordance with the appropriate data protection regulations. This would certainly help with assessment of your team’s capability and in setting targets.

Planning for research

It is important to start planning before the start of any research study. This is mainly with logistics, such as which day you will be doing the study, where will it be done and what equipment is required. In addition, develop a patient pathway from identifying the patients, how they feed into the study, the pathway during the study and, finally, how they exit from the study back into routine clinical care.

Generally, I would start identifying potential participants before the start of the study and gauge their interest by pre-empting them about it. This is especially so with clinical trials as they generally have a competitive and narrow recruitment period.

Dr Chee-Seng Yee, consultant rheumatologist, Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

RCP resources

  • Research engagement toolkit – produced by the RCP with support from the National Institute of Health Research and updated in March 2017. It provides information for physicians that will help you get engaged in research in lots of different ways.
  • Research for all – RCP report, published in 2015, which highlighted the perceived barriers to research from the perspective of doctors and recommended allowing all doctors who are interested in research to pursue it as part of their career.
  • My journey to research – consultant cardiologist Dr VJ Karthikeyan considers the importance of research in his role at the North Wales Cardiac Centre.