Susan Hamer, Director of Nursing at the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN)

Health research in the NHS is thriving


Susan Hamer, Director of Nursing at the NIHR Clinical Research Network and Matt Cooper, Business Development and Marketing Director at the NIHR Clinical Research Network

Date: 13 March 2018

Clinical research nurses make crucial contributions to the delivery of high quality, patient-centred research. They are an essential part of the workforce, with a role distinct from that of front-line NHS staff.

Any suggestion then that the winter pressures on the NHS, exacerbated by funding shortages and cost savings in primary care, are causing research nurses to be diverted from working on clinical trials and jeopardising their progress, is not our experience of the situation. This is important because these specialist nurses are a vital clinical resource for one very simple reason: research matters.

Research is the route to better treatments and improved patient care. This is what we are all about - improving the health and wealth of the nation through research. We thousands of clinical research nurses. The funding for this work comes from the Department of Health and Social Care, and is separate from the budget lines that support front-line NHS staff. In other words, NHS budgets are not linked to funding for the research nurses funded by the NIHR in England, and pressures on these budgets do not have an impact on research nurses’ funding or work.

Of course at times of crisis, such as during a winter flu epidemic, staff do what is needed to care for patients and support their colleagues. Patients come first - it is part of any nurse’s professional responsibility - but an increase in hospital admissions is not putting clinical studies at risk.

The reality is that health research in the NHS is thriving. Right now, more than 11,000 research staff funded by the NIHR, including more than 5,000 nurses - the majority of research nurses in England - are supporting more than 5,000 vital health research studies across England.

The funding for NIHR staff also includes access to opportunities for training and professional development, to ensure that the research workforce has the skills it needs to keep up to date with the rapidly changing science and technologies associated with clinical advances.

The numbers show that research activity is increasing year on year. In the 2016-17 financial year, more than 665,000 participants took part in research studies supported by the NIHR. This is more than ever before, and an increase of 10 per cent on 2015-16.

Alongside this, nearly 35,000 participants were recruited to studies sponsored by the life sciences industry. This means that during the past five years, more than 150,000 people have had the opportunity to participate in high-quality industrial research in the life sciences. In the process, they gained access to cutting-edge treatments. All this, and more, is helping researchers and clinicians to discover new treatments and improve patient care.

We  represent the largest and most integrated health research infrastructure in the world. It is looked on as an exemplar by other nations that have not seen the same level of government support for clinical research.

A central plank of the government’s industrial strategy life-sciences sector deal, announced in December 2017, is using the UK’s world-class health research infrastructure to attract further investment from industry. The NIHR, with support from the nursing workforce and allied health professionals, among others, is making this happen. NHS England is committed to providing research opportunities to the communities it serves, and we support this effort through funding research nurses, facilities and the studies themselves.

Moreover, from an economic perspective, such policies and commitments show that the UK is open for business. The life sciences represents one of the leading industries in the UK, and one in which the country is a world leader.

The life sciences industry accounts for one-third of the studies on the national portfolio, and when viewed from an international perspective, the UK conducts the third highest number of industry trials globally. Furthermore, the accounting firm KPMG estimated that the value of the activity from the NIHR portfolio of research to the UK economy was £2.4 billion in 2014-15.

In the past decade, we have transformed research in the NHS . The volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public has increased, the speed of translation of basic scientific discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy has increased, and the very people who conduct and contribute to applied health research are more supported than ever before.

The demands on nurses are undeniable, but so too is the consistent and successful delivery of NIHR-supported clinical research studies.

*A version of this blog was originally published in Research Fortnight.

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.
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    Susan Hamer and Matt Cooper explain how the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS.
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    Susan Hamer, Director of Nursing at the NIHR Clinical Research Network and Matt Cooper, Business Development and Marketing Director at the NIHR Clinical Research Network

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