Dr Louise Wood, Director of Science, Research & Evidence Department of Health and Social Care

Celebrating 70 years of health research on the 70th birthday of the NHS


Dr Louise Wood, Director of Science, Research & Evidence, Department of Health and Social Care


Date: 05 July 2018

Today, up and down the country, our healthcare services and organisations are marking the 70th birthday of the NHS.

The NHS has delivered huge medical advances and improvements to health outcomes, meaning that we can all expect to live longer and healthier lives. Research in the NHS has been critical to driving these improvements - a contribution reflected in the NHS Constitution, which identifies innovation and the promotion, conduct and use of research to improve the current and future health and care of the population as one of the key principles which guides the NHS.

The role of research in the NHS

At the NIHR we’ve been marking the NHS’s big birthday by celebrating how health research has shaped the health service and improved care over the past 70 years.

As part of our I Am Research campaign, we asked almost 500 of our researchers for their views on the research discoveries that have shaped the NHS since its inception in 1948. We have been sharing a discovery each day on our website and via social media since 1 May and asking people to suggest what research they think has had a big contribution to care in the NHS.

We’ve highlighted research discoveries that have truly transformed healthcare in England, including polio vaccination, developed in the US in 1952 and introduced into the NHS in 1955. Sequencing of the human genome has propelled us into an era of personalised medicine and laid the foundation for the NHS’s world-leading 100,000 genomes project.

We’ve shone a light on technological innovations that have made modern healthcare possible, like computed tomography scans, of which more than 4 million take place each year in the NHS, and fibre optics, which has enabled the evolution of minimally invasive surgical treatments and diagnostic imaging. These have contributed to shortening hospital stays and reducing patient mortality.

And we’ve picked out some less well known discoveries, such as identification of the genes associated with fatal lysosomal storage diseases, which has had a huge impact on the quality of life and life expectancy of people with metabolic diseases.

How the NIHR has shaped NHS research

Although the NIHR has only been in existence for 12 years, a number of research discoveries that we funded or supported were nominated for our countdown.

For example, the international CRASH-2 trial, funded by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme, found that the drug tranexamic acid significantly reduced the risk of people bleeding to death if administered within the first three hours of trauma. More than 1 million people worldwide who would otherwise die each year from traumatic injury stand to benefit from this novel, off-label use of tranexamic acid.

And researchers supported by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre were heavily involved in the evaluation of new meningitis vaccines for infants and young children. In 2015, the vaccine was added to the NHS childhood immunisation programme, making England the first country in the world to introduce a Men B vaccination programme that is publicly funded and that has national coverage.

Driving the next 70 years of discoveries

As for the next 70 years of the NHS, the NIHR is already funding research to tackle the challenges our health service faces and anticipates facing, such as commissioning research into the complex health and social care needs of the UK’s ageing population. We have also made a significant investment in infrastructure across the country to support collaborations with research councils, the life sciences industry and medical research charities to speed up the translation of promising discoveries in the lab into new treatments and diagnostics.

We’re funding large and ambitious studies, such as the £3m award for research on screening to detect undiagnosed atrial fibrillation, a heart condition responsible for one in ten strokes. We’ll be continuing to fund research on everyday questions that could improve care for tens of thousands of people such as the BUMPES trial, led by the University of Birmingham, which investigated the ideal position a first-time mother should adopt to increase the chance of a birth without interventions such as forceps or a Caesarean section.

And we’re supporting new initiatives that aim to maximise how the NHS makes use of technological advances, like the Research Hospital partnership brokered by the NIHR University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre that aims to harness the power of artificial intelligence to make healthcare services safer, quicker and more efficient.

How patients make research happen

None of this would be possible without the people who volunteer to take part in health research each year – more than 700,000 last year. Their willingness to get involved has often been transformational for them personally and has left a legacy of better care for future patients. You can hear from three patients about why they took part in research and how they benefited in the video we produced for our I Am Research campaign. Patients, carers and the public also play a vital role in informing all stages of the research funded by the NIHR – from prioritising research questions to dissemination of study results.

As part of the national NHS70 celebrations, we’re asking even more of you to get involved in health and care research to help to shape the next 70 years of the NHS. Visit our campaign page to find out how you can get involved in research.

Research is even more important when resources are under pressure. It identifies new and better ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating disease. I believe that research funded and supported by the NIHR will be critical to improving care, contributing to NHS sustainability and ensuring that our health service remains the envy of the world.

The NIHR’s I Am Research campaign gives patients, the public and health and social care research professionals a chance to shout about how fantastic research is. We aim to raise awareness of the benefits of research and the positive impact it has people's lives. More information on this year's campaign, which also celebrates the NHS's 70th birthday, is available on the I Am Research campaign page.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.
  • Summary:
    Research has been pivotal to improving care in the NHS over the past 70 years and will continue to drive improvements as the NHS progresses to its next big anniversary, says Dr Louise Wood, Director of Science, Research & Evidence at the Department of Health and Social Care. Her blog is part of our I Am Research campaign, which also celebrates the NHS's 70th birthday.
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    Dr Louise Wood, Director of Science, Research & Evidence, Department of Health and Social Care


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