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Record number of patients take part in clinical research

Published: 20 May 2019

  • Over 870,000 people participated in health and social care research across England - a huge increase from last year
  • Record number of studies open for patients in England - delivered at every NHS trust across the country
  • Researchers aim to make it even easier for people to take part in research, with launch of new website

The number of people benefiting from clinical research in England reached record highs this year for the third year running - with over eight hundred and seventy thousand (870,250) participants involved in studies supported by the NIHR over the last twelve months. This is the equivalent of 2,383 participants per day and an increase of over 140,000 since 2017-18.

The number marks a significant step towards the NHS Long Term Plan’s goal of one million people taking part in clinical research by 2023/24 - part of the Government’s strategy to improve care, treatment and NHS services in England.

Key areas of research

The most participants were recruited into children’s research studies (81,892), studies delivered in primary care settings (78,533), reproductive health and childbirth research (74,128) , cancer research (67,652), and mental health research (65,645) leading the way in offering opportunities for patients to participate.

A couple from Lancashire were one of many to benefit from reproductive health and childbirth research over the last year. Jessica Corbally, 27, and husband Chris, 30, had struggled to conceive a second child for several years. They recently welcomed their new baby son into the family, having taken part in a fertility study testing a new procedure.

Discussing their experience, Jessica said: “We didn’t know very much at all about clinical research until the consultant told us about this study. But everything was explained very clearly to us and we felt completely comfortable taking part. We had nothing to lose, yet we’ve gained everything we ever wanted. To anybody else, he might be just another baby, but to us, he is extra special. Not only have we benefited by having Joshua, we also feel like we have contributed a little something to medical research.”

Studies into dementias and neurodegeneration are an important step in supporting the NHS Long Term Plan to increase research participation in this specialty and this year 42,024 participants were recruited into 262 dementia and neurodegeneration studies on the NIHR CRN Portfolio.

More studies than ever in England

The latest figures from NIHR show that patients now have more opportunity than ever to take part in clinical research and potentially benefit from new and groundbreaking treatments - with a record number of new studies (2,194) added to the NIHR’s portfolio over the year, bringing the total number of ongoing studies across England to 6,106 - again the highest number yet. For the first time since 2015/16, every NHS trust across the country also supported clinical research by recruiting their patients into NIHR studies.

Evidence shows that being given the opportunity to take part in research benefits both patients and carers - and that their experience of being involved is overwhelmingly positive. The latest NIHR survey of those taking part in research, completed by over 8,500 participants across England over the last year, found that 90 per cent of people had a good experience of participating in research.

Sheila Walker from Leeds is currently taking part in her second clinical trial investigating a form of injectable radiotherapy to treat breast cancer.

Sheila said: “Taking part in research has been amazing and I feel honoured to be giving something back. My care has been tremendous and the love and personal care I have received from the team has made it a more pleasant journey. I feel like I am part of a family and I appreciate the little things the team do and ask about when I visit for treatment.”

Sheila would tell anyone thinking of taking part in a trial to go for it. “Why not? It’s great to contribute to research, and it is something I am very proud of.”

NIHR: Improving the health of the nation

Dr Jonathan Sheffield OBE, Chief Executive of the NIHR Clinical Research Network said: “We are delighted that this year alone, hundreds of thousands of people across the country have given their time to improve healthcare for others. Without their commitment, vital health research that changes lives simply could not happen.

“The benefits that clinical research bring to society are profound. People who take part in studies can gain access to cutting edge, innovative new treatments. While NHS trusts and health and social care patients also benefit significantly, with evidence and innovations identified through research pivotal to the development of new types of care and treatment - ultimately leading to the prevention of ill health, earlier diagnosis, faster recovery and better outcomes.”

The NIHR CRN works hard to support research delivery and this year 82% of non-commercial studies and 69% of commercial studies were delivered to time and target.

Life sciences research

The number of new commercial studies set up across the year reached record levels - with 740 new studies sponsored by the life sciences industry registered on the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) portfolio in 2018/19, bringing the total number of studies being delivered in partnership with commercial organisations to 1,523.

The number of participants taking part in commercial contract studies also remains high for the second year in succession. The NIHR CRN helped recruit 46,064 participants to commercial studies - the second largest number on record.

Professor Chris Whitty, NIHR lead and Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Research is a key part of our mission to improve care and treatment for patients - it is key in addressing the key health and social challenges we face now and those facing future generations. The latest NIHR figures show that patients have more opportunity than ever before to take part in clinical research and potentially benefit from new drugs or treatments.”

Dr Jonathan Sheffield OBE, Chief Executive of NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) said: “Despite the changing healthcare environment, clinical research in England is thriving - with record numbers taking part in studies supported by the NIHR over the last year. As an organisation, we continue to remain primed to provide high quality support and expertise that enables the life sciences industry to access key infrastructure and deliver research within the NHS and social care.

“Clinical research is vital for the UK economy and the NHS. More research being delivered within the UK by the life sciences industry, including global pharmaceutical companies, ultimately means more inward investment to the UK - aiding the economy by bringing in both jobs and services to the country while boosting NHS finances. We are pleased to see that the NHS continues to be seen as one of the very best places in the world in order to conduct high quality clinical research.”

Be Part of Research

Increasing the number of people taking part in clinical research is a key part of the NHS Long Term Plan and the NIHR has taken steps to support this by launching a new website called Be Part of Research - which helps people to easily find and take part in studies across the UK.

Baroness Blackwood, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Care said: “From the eradication of smallpox and the discovery of penicillin, the UK has a strong track record of public health successes which have saved countless lives.

"All of our successes to date would have been impossible without world-leading research and the selfless volunteers who take part in clinical trials.

“Through our Long Term Plan, we are determined to make it even easier for people to get involved in research and the NIHR’s Be Part of Research website is an important step to making this happen.”

Dr Sam Roberts, director of innovation and life sciences at NHS England and NHS Improvement and chief executive of the Accelerated Access Collaborative, said: "Clinical research brings significant benefits for patients and the organisations taking part, and I am delighted to see that as the NHS Long Term Plan prioritises better clinical research, a record number of patients participated in research last year with every trust in the NHS providing access to trials.

“NHS England continues to work in partnership with NIHR to make it easier to undertake research in the NHS so that even more people can participate and gain access to innovative new treatments.”

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