Let’s put research at the heart of the NHS

Colette Goldrick, the ABPI’s Executive Director of Strategy, Research and Partnerships, explains our call for the new Health and Care Bill to ensure NHS organisations conduct and resource clinical research.

Clinical research is the backbone of high-quality patient care.

According to studies by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), patients treated in ‘research-active’ NHS hospitals have improved outcomes, lower mortality rates, improved Care Quality Commission ratings, and increased confidence in the quality of care received.

Research benefits the NHS too - for every patient recruited onto a commercial clinical trial between 2016 and 2018, the NHS in England received more than £9,000 from life sciences companies, and, where a trial medicine replaced the standard of care treatment, saved £5,8131. Read more here.

Research makes economic sense too - most recently demonstrated by Kings College London’s 2019 study, which found that for every £1 of public money invested in UK medical research, the UK receives around 25p back in health gains and GDP benefits every year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also underlined how a globally interconnected research effort is essential for health systems to plan for and combat population health threats. As we have seen over the last eighteen months, research collaboration has driven extraordinarily rapid novel vaccine and treatment development, repurposing of existing medicines and global sharing of best clinical practice.

The response to COVID has seen more patients, staff and NHS sites engage in clinical research than ever before, reflecting the fact that the criticality of research activity is now much more widely understood and appreciated.

And yet...

Despite all these many benefits to patients, the NHS, the economy and global health, NHS organisations currently have a legal duty only to ‘promote’ research, rather than to engage in it. NHS organisations are not measured on their research activity, and there are no consequences for NHS organisations that do not conduct research.

This leads to widespread variability in terms of patients’ ability to benefit from cutting-edge innovation, slows the development of health data assets, inhibits the fostering of an innovation culture across the NHS and ultimately exacerbates health inequalities.

To support NHS recovery and continue to reap the benefits of clinical research, we need to build the current enthusiasm for research into routine healthcare in the UK. The current Health and Care Bill creates an opportunity to do just that, by embedding research into the new NHS Integrated Care System structures as they become legal entities.

On International Clinical Trials Day, we are therefore calling for the new Health and Care Bill to mandate that Integrated Care Systems ensure all their NHS organisations conduct and resource clinical research.

By seizing the opportunity presented by the new legislation, we can begin to make real progress towards fostering an innovation culture within the NHS, increasing diversity and inclusivity of people participating in trials and raising the quality of care for all conditions.

We can also significantly boost delivery of the aspirations contained in the Government’s Vision for Clinical Research Delivery, which outlines how the UK will transform the way clinical research is designed, approved and conducted, through more patient-centred, innovative and pragmatic approaches.

Of course, a mandatory requirement to conduct research will only be effective if it is accompanied by appropriate resources and skills development to enable NHS staff to engage with research and contribute to building health data assets. So we are also calling for planned research resource and skills development to be factored into national NHS people plans and local Integrated Care System plans as they evolve.

This is an opportunity to take a transformational step towards delivering world-leading patient outcomes in a world-class NHS. Let’s make it happen.

  • NHS

Last modified: 20 September 2023

Last reviewed: 20 September 2023