Internet Explorer is no longer supported by Microsoft. To browse the NIHR site please use a modern, secure browser like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.

NIHR supports ambitious new plans to transform clinical research delivery at pace

researcher holding testtubes

Published: 22 November 2023

The NIHR has committed to drive forward new plans to accelerate transformation across clinical research delivery. The Full government response to the Lord O'Shaughnessy review into commercial clinical trials sets out a clear and renewed ambition to increase the scale, speed and efficiency of clinical trial delivery in the UK, in response to O’Shaughnessy’s independent review in May.

The government’s response has been developed in collaboration with NIHR and its clinical research delivery partners. It marks an ambitious and focused plan for action with milestone completion dates and new UK Performance Indicator to improve the speed and predictability of commercial research. It defines clear priorities for the continued work to implement the vision set out in Saving and Improving Lives: The Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery and will build on NIHR’s work to recover and boost the delivery of clinical research in the NHS. The NIHR has pledged to fully act on the plans, delivering on its commitments to support an effective, efficient, and innovative health research system that will improve care for patients and the public.

Sine Littlewood, NIHR Clinical Research Network’s Director of Business Development and Marketing, said:

“It is thanks to the sustained efforts from teams across NIHR, in collaboration with our partners, that much progress has already been made to transform clinical research delivery. These plans mean that we can go even further to achieve our shared goals, more quickly, more effectively and with more transparency in place.

"NIHR’s new Research Delivery Network will play a central role in the UK’s goal to be a leading destination for clinical research and will build on the excellent foundations laid down by the Clinical Research Network. We remain focused on tackling the areas for improvement highlighted in the O’Shaughnessy Review and acting on our commitments to develop a world-class research system that enables the best care for patients and the public.”

Professor Lucy Chappell, DHSC’s Chief Scientific Advisor and NIHR CEO, said:

“We have taken significant strides over the last 18 months returning UK performance in clinical research to pre-pandemic levels. The plans set out in the response raise these ambitions further, strengthening our cross sector UK commitment to be a global leader in all areas of clinical research delivery.

"In this next phase we will work together to achieve greater transformation across clinical research delivery, through increasing the speed of review and set up of studies, reaching more people via NIHR’s Be Part of Research Service and developing more innovative, decentralised models of clinical trial delivery.

"By driving these system-wide improvements together with our partners we can ensure that more people can access innovative clinical trials, improving treatment and care for all.”

Recent progress builds on NIHR’s achievements

NIHR has continued to make significant improvements over the last six months, achieving step change for the clinical research system:

Research studies deliver to time and to target

The NIHR has led work to implement the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England’s Research Reset programme, to significantly increase UK performance in clinical research, exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

80% of open studies on the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) portfolio are now delivering to time and to target. Industry studies recovered even further with 83% delivering on time and to target by the end of June. In October 2023, a total of 5,788 studies on the NIHR CRN Portfolio were currently open to recruitment, with 80% of studies delivering to time and target.

New Research Delivery Network for England announced

A new NIHR Research Delivery Network (RDN) for England will support the government's plans to make the UK the best place to conduct commercial research. It will play a lead role in the delivery of the government response to the Lord O'Shaughnessy review and remain focused on continuous improvement across the clinical research system.

A large-scale programme of work is already underway to develop new services and functions in the RDN to ensure it can respond to, and support, the needs of health and care research delivery, including commercial companies.

Commercial study set up times reduced by a third

Working closely with our partners, the NIHR has supported the UK’s standardised, national approach to costing and contracting for commercial research (NCVR). By increasing the speed and efficiency of research set-up together with improved consistency in multi-site study costing, it has boosted the UK’s position as an attractive destination for health and care research.

Over 600 studies have had a national review completed and over 60 have gone through the set-up process. The review found set-up times are over 100 days quicker and as much as 185 days quicker when compared to the pre-pandemic data for 2019/20. Additionally, when compared to the 12 months prior, the average time from initial costing submission to the date of the first participant consenting to take part in the study, has reduced from 305 days to 194 days; a reduction of 110 days or 36%.

Be Part of Research Service reaches more people

Over 370,000 volunteers have registered with NIHR’s Be Part of Research service to find out about research taking place across the UK, generating unprecedented public interest in clinical trials. The service is now available through the NHS App in England and signposted from the NHS website home page. By providing these further opportunities to take part, NIHR aims to have 500,000 people signed up to Be Part of Research by April 2024 with an increase to 1 million people by March 2025.

NIHR’s Be Part of Research service has been further developed to empower the public to access research studies of relevance to them and encourage greater diversity of participants. A new UK-wide registry service enables people to sign up and choose the areas of health and care research they are interested in, are then matched to suitable studies and sent information on how to take part. This accelerates study recruitment and makes the process of finding and taking part in research much easier. Since February 2023, this new service has been used by 11 studies, contacting over 20,000 volunteers leading to approximately 2,000 participant enrolments.

Boost for research careers

NIHR has announced it will spend an additional £30 million per year to enable more healthcare professionals (HCPs) to include research in their careers.

This funding is supporting training and career development opportunities across all career stages, from internship schemes, to more senior awards aimed at better embedding research within NHS and care settings. This increased investment will create a highly expanded community of research HCPs to sit alongside the already established medical academic communities, to effectively work together to deliver higher quality research.

Next steps

Over the coming months, the NIHR will focus all its efforts to build on improvements across clinical research delivery and act quickly to meet the commitments outlined in the Full government response to the Lord O'Shaughnessy review into commercial clinical trials. Quarterly updates and monthly cross-sector communications will begin immediately and will be publicly available on The Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery microsite.

Latest news