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At least 7,469 research nurses and midwives across the UK and Ireland, new census reveals

Published: 09 February 2022

There are at least 7,469 research nurses and midwives across the UK and Ireland working within all areas of healthcare, reveals a landmark new census initiated by a group of NIHR 70@70 Senior Nurse & Midwife Research Leaders.

The census, incorporating responses from research nurses and midwives across all four UK nations and the Republic of Ireland, reveals nurses and midwives are working at every level in healthcare from Bands 5 – 9 in the UK, and from staff nurse to Directors of Nursing or Midwifery in the Republic of Ireland. This suggests there are opportunities to join the profession at every level, with continued potential for career progression. Clinical research nurses and midwives are a specialist workforce, with knowledge, skills and expertise in both clinical practice and research delivery.

The census shows that:

  • 33.7% reported working in joint posts, for example as a clinical research nurse for part of their role as well as a clinical nurse specialist;
  • 72% are working within a single disease/area specialism; 
  • 28% reported covering multiple disease areas. 

The breadth and depth of research nurse and midwife involvement across the healthcare sector highlights their considerable expertise, and the high quality, safe and effective delivery of care for patients they provide. The number of nurses and midwives in joint roles identifies the potential for more flexible working to enable the workforce to develop research skills alongside clinical practice.

Research nurses and midwives have played a vital role throughout the COVID pandemic, supporting both COVID and non-COVID related studies. For example, during the pandemic they have supported 359 COVID-related clinical research studies and helped to recruit over 2.5 million participants across more than 5,000 sites in the UK alone. This includes recruitment to studies such as the RECOVERY trial, which discovered how important the steroid dexamethasone can be in treating the most severe COVID cases. This discovery alone is estimated to have saved over a million lives across the world, while rapid delivery of COVID vaccine studies required novel workforce models to ensure the rollout of the NHS Vaccine programme.

NIHR Director of Nursing & Midwifery Professor Ruth Endacott said: 

“This census reveals the true breadth and depth of our research nursing and midwifery community. We know there are scores of people working incredibly hard day and night helping to bring us new treatments and medicine alongside their healthcare colleagues but we now have a much clearer idea of the size of the workforce. Research nurses and midwives are making a difference to the health of people across the UK and Ireland.

“Being a research nurse or midwife is an amazing and fulfilling career. We want research nurses and midwives to know they are valued, recognise themselves as part of the wider research community and have opportunities to grow and develop in research. 

“Clinical trials, new drugs and treatments simply would not be possible without our research nurses and midwives. Their contribution is invaluable and critical, impacts everyone, and we call on healthcare Trusts to join us in recognising and applauding these life changers.”

Career development

Clinical research nurses and midwives play a vital role in delivering and leading research, and improving patient care. Their responsibilities include inviting patients and healthy participants to research studies including clinical trials, providing nursing care, undertaking study procedures and developing new drugs, treatments, care pathways or regimens. Those completing the survey work in primary, secondary and tertiary care organisations, industry, academia and charities.

The NIHR is supporting the development of a skilled clinical academic research workforce across nursing and midwifery through its NIHR Nursing and Midwifery Incubator programme and is offering research training awards through its HEE/NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic (ICA) Programme and NIHR Fellowships Programme.

Research support networks also exist across Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales:

All research staff are also required to undertake training to ensure they meet the standards set out in the Good Clinical Practice guidelines for clinical trials, which in England can be accessed via NIHR Learn.    

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