Embedding research in the NHS

Research is vital in providing the evidence we need to transform services and improve outcomes, such as in developing new models of care, redesigning urgent and emergency care, strengthening primary care and transforming mental health and cancer services. Research is the attempt to derive generalisable or transferable new knowledge.

The NHS benefits greatly from delivering research directly, not only in terms of breakthroughs enabling earlier diagnosis, more effective treatments and improved system design, all of which improve patient care and health outcomes, but also increased workforce satisfaction and retention and patient and carer experience. Mortality is lower in research active hospitals. The NHS also benefits financially from delivering research.

The purpose of the Embedding Research team in NHS England is to enable the NHS to increase the scale, pace and diversity of those taking part in research and to provide system guidance and assurance.

Guidance is available to help integrated care systems to maximise the benefits of research for their diverse populations. This guidance sets out what good research practice looks like and supports integrated care boards in fulfilling their research duties. Guidance is also available to help NHS organisations manage research finance in the NHS. This guide provides practical information on costing research and the use of income generated by research to support building research capacity and capability.

NHS England a key research delivery partner

NHS England is a proud partner of The Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery – a collective vision to realise the full potential of clinical research to make the UK one of the best places in the world to conduct clinical research.

Through a cross-sector, collaborative approach, NHS England works closely with the rest of the UK’s clinical research system on a coordinated and coherent programme of work that has been developed to ensure the resilience and growth of the UK’s clinical research sector.

Using The Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery as the collective vision, this continuous improvement programme aims to deliver faster, more efficient and more innovative clinical research through 5 overarching themes that underpin the programme of work.

  1. A sustainable and supported research workforce to ensure that healthcare staff of all backgrounds and roles are given the right support to deliver clinical research as an essential part of care.
  2. Clinical research embedded in the NHS so that research is increasingly seen as an essential part of healthcare to generate evidence about effective diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
  3. People-centred research to make it easier for patients, service users and members of the public across the UK to access research and be involved in the design of research, and to have the opportunity to participate.
  4. Streamlined, efficient and innovative research so that the UK is seen as one of the best places in the world to conduct cutting-edge clinical research, driving innovation in healthcare.
  5. Research enabled by data and digital tools to ensure the best use of resources, leveraging the strength of UK health data assets to allow for more high-quality research to be delivered.

Key activity undertaken in support of this vision includes guidance for health professionals.  Many health professionals combine research and providing care in the NHS. The following publications have been published by NHS England to support this:

  • The guidance Making research matter sets out a policy framework for developing and investing in nursing related research activity across the NHS.
  • The Allied health professions’ research and innovation strategy for England contains a definitive collective national reference statement that encompasses and supports the existing research and innovation strategies of all the allied health professional associations.
  • NHS England has published the self-assessment of organisational readiness tool: a guide to improve nursing research capacity in health and care. The tool helps organisations to assess their preparedness for supporting the Chief Nursing Officer for England’s strategic plan for research.
  • Guidance has been published to support the involvement of NHS workforce in health and social care research. The Multi-professional practice-based research capabilities framework highlights and promotes active involvement in research as an integral component of practice for practice-based health and care professionals.
  • In addition, a UK survey of pharmacy professionals’ involvement in research has resulted in this report with recommendations to inform a clinical academic career pathway for pharmacy, which supports embedding research at all stages of a pharmacy professional’s career.

NHS England works closely with the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), which provides funding for research studies as well as academic training, facilities, career development and research capability development. In addition, through Be Part of Research NIHR supports participation on research in a wide range of long-term conditions, diseases and disabilities. See the NIHR website for more information on NIHR’s support offer.

Developing treatments for all: Increasing diversity in research participation

Health research plays an integral part in how the NHS develops services and continues to provide high quality healthcare for our population. However, NIHR data has revealed that UK geographies that experience high rates of disease also have the lowest number of patients taking part in research. The areas where there are the lowest levels of research participation also align closely to areas where incomes are lowest, and indices of deprivation are highest. This means that research is often conducted with individuals who are healthier and wealthier, and lacks representation from our diverse society.

It is important that people from different communities have the opportunity to participate in research to ensure that treatments, technologies and services reflect the needs of our diverse population. NHS England has committed to increasing participation in the research taking place in the NHS.

The Research Engagement Network Development Programme aims to increase diversity in research participation through the development of research engagement networks with communities who are often underserved by research, and by ensuring diversity in research is considered by integrated care systems (ICSs).

Launched in 2022, NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care have funded all 42 ICSs in England to grow their local research engagement networks by working with local voluntary, community and social enterprises to engage underserved communities. In addition, a further 9 teams have been funded to plan how to address specific existing barriers to inclusion in research such as language, cultural barriers and/or age limitations and/or restrictions across a range of conditions and clinical or care settings.

NHS England has published Increasing diversity in research participation: a good practice guide for engaging with underrepresented groups, which provides practical insights for researchers on how to engage more diverse participants in health research. More diverse participation will help ensure that the health service continues to serve and be available to all.