International Clinical Trials Day 2022

NHS England is committed to improving care, treatment and lives of the whole population and clinical trials are key to delivering this transformation. Because clinical research compares two or more things to see which is better, it gives us the evidence we need to make the right decisions.

This year is the 40th anniversary of me starting my nurse training and this year, on International Clinical Trials Day, I have been reflecting on how much has changed. I remember the first clinical trial I was involved in when I was a staff nurse in a coronary care unit in the late 1980s. The trial looked at the impact of streptokinase on outcomes post heart attack and it went on to herald the widespread introduction of thrombolysis therapies.

Yet clinical trials aren’t all about drugs. Another example I remember from the 1980s was research into keyhole surgery and how it could help patients recover faster and get home quicker with fewer scars, an innovation that spread quickly and transformed surgery.

The UK has always been a world leader for research and innovation in health care; around 25% of the world’s top 100 prescription medicines were discovered and developed in the UK. We want to remain a world leader and benefit from early access to new therapies and technologies.

We want to increase the amount of international clinical trials that come to the UK and the Research Resilience and Growth (RRG) programme, a government led programme of work to ensure the recovery, resilience and growth of UK clinical research delivery, is focussed on achieving this, partly through streamlining research costing and contracting. At the moment each commercial study needs a separate negotiation with each potential study site – a time consuming process. The National contract value review is changing this, making it more efficient by introducing a single national costing process and standard contracts.

It’s important that we don’t just think about numbers of studies that are underway in the NHS but also what those studies are exploring. We want to focus research on priority areas for the NHS, areas that are key to delivering the ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan and other priorities such as reducing health inequalities, elective recovery and achieving net zero. Our demand signalling programme aims to identify and communicate the highest priority research questions.

I have been reflecting, like many, on health inequalities and how we can address them. The Accelerated Access Collaborative is a partnership of 16 key organisations in health research and innovation in the UK who are working together to improve patient outcomes and reduce health inequalities through research and innovation. This work involves ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to get involved in research, and has the same access to life changing innovations, no matter their background or where they live. We know that health research does not usually take place in deprived areas where the burden of disease is highest and over the coming months and years we will work with partners to change this.

It is vital that the diversity of research participants is reflective of the diversity of the population who have the condition being looked into, because only then will we truly understand what works for our wonderfully diverse population.

The one piece of advice I would give is to find out what research is taking place in your hospital or specialist area and get involved – talk to colleagues, talk to patients, and find out as much as you can as it is such an exciting field to get involved in.

Happy International Clinical Trials Day; may research continue to flourish in the health service, improving outcomes and lives and increasing job satisfaction for those working in the NHS.

Alison Austin

Alison Austin is Deputy Director of Research in the Innovation, Research and Life Sciences Group within NHS England and NHS Improvement. Her role is to raise the profile of research across NHS England and NHS Improvement and ensure we take a cross organisational approach to supporting research in the NHS. Her work focuses on improving patient outcomes by embedding research in healthcare practice across all NHS settings, and increasing the number and diversity of people accessing and taking part in research.

Alison has worked on health, medical or research related policies in a number of government departments including the Department of Health, the Medical Devices Agency, the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Treasury. She is a qualified nurse with 13 years front line experience and has a degree in molecular biology and a PhD in molecular endocrinology.