The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) have released a joint statement calling for research to be made an everyday part of practice for medical professionals.
The statement, titled Making research everybody’s business, emphasises the vital role clinical research played, and is still playing, in the ongoing fight against COVID-19, before further highlighting the role it could still play in improving the efficiency and efficacy of care.
Given the pressures caused by the pandemic demanded an all-hands-to-the-pump mentality, focus was taken away from other research and treatments for other conditions – more than 40% of NHS trusts paused non-COVID-19 research studies during the first wave of the pandemic.
But now there are glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel, the RCP and the NIHR are calling for the recovery of clinical research activity to be made an NHS priority.
In the joint statement, the two organisations make a series of recommendations for a range of stakeholders across the health sector. It urges that ICSs, NHS trusts and health boards should:
- Develop strong links between medical directors, research and development directors, and chief executives.
- Support research to be acknowledged as a direct part of clinical activity and reward participation through local and national awards.
- Ringfence time for research in job plans of those who want to have a significant research leadership role.
- Ensure that multidisciplinary workforce planning encompasses those who support research.
- Take opportunities to implement proportionate training requirements for those involved in research.
For Health Education England, NHS England, statutory bodies, and the various departments of health in the other countries in the UK:
- Work with stakeholders to boost research engagement by promoting opportunities for postgraduate doctors, medical students, and other healthcare professionals.
- Recognise and reward trusts that harness clinical research and engage with industry partners to improve patient care.
- The NIHR should continue to develop the capacity and capability of research across the NHS by working in conjunction with fellow research funders and academies.
- Make sure that grants and processes account for and support research that addresses health inequalities and other priorities within the NHS.
- Ensure funded research is accessible and inclusive.
- Support grant-holders to reduce the impact clinical research has on the environment.
The statement also urges regulators like the CQC strengthen the assessment of clinical research activity as a marker of care within assessment processes for trusts and ICSs, as well as calling on the GMC to build on its key principles and continue to collaborate with industry partners to promote research engagement.
Professor Lucy Chappell, CEO of the NIHR, said: “It is incredibly important that every healthcare professional working in the NHS is able to support, facilitate or lead research, whether that is through identifying opportunities for new research, offering research to patients and the public, supporting colleagues or leading studies themselves.
“As our statement makes clear, research and innovation are key indicators of providing high-quality care. They should be seen as core activities within clinical care for all clinicians, so as to improve outcomes for patients, and support recruitment and retention of the workforce.”
The statement is already receiving wide support across the broader health system, including from UK Research and Innovation, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and UKRD.
Also responding to the statement, Professor Ramesh Arasaradnam, academic vice president of the RCP, said: “There is no doubt in my mind that without the work of clinical researchers, more lives would have been lost during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. That incredibly challenging time demonstrated just how important research is, and why all healthcare workers should have the opportunity to take part in clinical research.
“The RCP believes every clinician working in the NHS should be supported to become research active. High-quality research in the NHS is everyone’s responsibility and needs to be a core part of clinical care. The events of recent years have shown clearly that research needs to be normalised in the NHS, especially in the most difficult of times, as research for all.”
Read the full statement here.