New figures show state of clinical research in the NHS

3 January 2012

The National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network has published new statistics that provide an insight into the current state-of-play for clinical research in the NHS in England.

Funded by the Department of Health, the role of the Clinical Research Network is to provide an infrastructure to support clinical research delivery in the NHS. It does this by funding thousands of research nurses and support staff across the country, who recruit suitable patients into studies, carry out clinical research activities, and manage the delivery of research studies to time and target.

The scope and scale of the Clinical Research Network’s activity means that it is well placed to provide a picture of research in the NHS. Its new statistics, which are based on England-wide NHS study delivery data for the April 2011 – March 2012 year, indicate that clinical research activity in the NHS is thriving — but that there is still room for improvement.

The figures show that:

  • research culture in the NHS is expanding: 99% of NHS Trusts actively recruited patients into studies, the number of studies in “hard to reach” areas such as mental health Trusts and ambulance trusts grew significantly;
  • patient participation in clinical research is on the rise: 595,000 patients took part in studies – a 5% increase on the previous year;
  • the number and spread of commercial contract research studies is growing: in 2011/12 the NIHR Clinical Research Network took on 388 new life-sciences industry studies — the highest number in any year since its records began. 62% of NHS Trusts engaged in commercial research and patient recruitment increased by 20 percentage points.

NIHR Clinical Research Network chief executive, Dr Jonathan Sheffield, said: “Our ability to deliver clinical research studies in the NHS efficiently is vital to the economy, and to the development of better treatments for patients. The figures we have published show that things are heading in the right direction, but we are not complacent. We know there is still a lot of work ahead of us to improve the speed of study set-up and maintain a higher level of consistency in delivering trials to time and target for the research community.”

Dr Sheffield pointed to the Clinical Research Network’s major “lean” initiative to bring efficiencies to research set-up and delivery, which should start to take effect in 2013. He continued: “We are using the lessons of industry to make the delivery of clinical research quicker and slicker in the NHS — but it’s important to remember that we are doing this for patients. A research-active NHS means we can bring break-through treatments to patients more quickly, and we can keep on improving the health service.”

More information

The Clinical Research Network is part of the NHS National Institute for Health Research. It provides researchers and NHS organisations with the practical support they need to make clinical studies happen in the NHS, so that more research takes place across England, and more patients can take part.

This practical support includes:

  • reducing the “red-tape” around setting up a study;
  • enhancing NHS resources, by funding the people and facilities needed to carry out research “on the ground”;
  • helping researchers to identify suitable NHS sites, and recruit patients to take part in research studies;
  • advising researchers on how to make their study “work” in the NHS environment.

More information at:


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