UK government sets out bold vision for future of clinical research delivery

  • Strengthen the UK’s renowned research expertise as a world-leader in designing and delivering research
  • Ambitious vision to unlock the true potential of research putting patients and NHS at its heart
  • Using the lessons from COVID-19 to build back better, the government will create a patient-centred, pro-innovation and digitally-enabled research environment

Patients, clinicians and researchers across the whole of the UK are set to benefit from the ambitious vision for the future of clinical research delivery in the UK as the government sets out to create more efficient research delivery, more diverse and accessible research, and to embed research in the NHS.

Saving and improving lives: the future of UK clinical research delivery, published today and developed by the UK government and devolved administrations, sets out how we will deliver faster, more efficient and more innovative research – from the streamlining of costing, contracting and approvals processes to the HRA’s rapid ethics review pilot, which aims to halve the time to provide a final opinion for research applications.

Using best practice, participating in research will become more accessible, increasing diversity and allowing more people across the whole of the UK to take part. Working with Centres of Excellence, such as the Centre for BME Health in Leicester, there will be more support for research in more diverse and under-served communities and innovative approaches like the University of Birmingham’s Dare2Think clinical trial, which has used remote eConsent and digital follow-up methods to recruit 3,000 patients across England with atrial fibrillation for their research.

The NHS will be encouraged to put delivery of research at the heart of everything they do, making it an essential and rewarding part of effective patient care. This means building a culture across the NHS and all health and care settings that is positive about research, where all staff feel empowered and supported to take part in clinical research delivery as part of their job.

Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary, said:

Clinical research is the backbone of healthcare – it is the way we improve the detection, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease and improves the lives of patients across the country. This has never been more true than in our response to the pandemic.

By taking advantage of our world-renowned research expertise, and a strong partnership between business, academia, the NHS and government, we are determined to make the UK the best possible place to carry out clinical research that will improve the health of people here and across the world.

Ground-breaking technologies, data and analytics will transform healthcare and save lives. Now is the time to seize the opportunity and make this vision a reality.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into focus the strength and importance of the UK’s research base. Rapid delivery of clinical trials, such as RECOVERY, have shown how the UK can set up trials in record time without any loss of rigour. These strengths in research delivery enabled the UK to identify the first proven treatment for COVID-19, dexamethasone, which has cut mortality rates by as much as one-third in COVID-19 patients needing ventilation and is estimated to have saved up to 27,000 lives in the UK and hundreds of thousands of lives around the world. Our research has also made a leading contribution to the international vaccine effort – shining a light on the pathway back to normality.

Important lessons have also been learned from the pandemic about where we can improve, such as empowering healthcare and research workers, who have worked to take care of us during the pandemic, to ensure our workforce is supported and resilient to future challenges. We have also seen the need to go even further in terms of innovative trial design and delivery.

Lord Bethell, Minister for Innovation, said:

We are rapidly approaching a step change in global healthcare, with new technologies and treatments transforming the way we diagnose, treat and prevent illness.

We need to act now to position the UK at the forefront of this healthcare revolution. Our vision sets out how we will achieve a clinical research delivery system in the UK which is innovative, delivers for all research sponsors and patients and is resilient in the face of future healthcare crises.

The vision is built around 5 key themes:

  1. Clinical research embedded in the NHS: to create a research-positive culture in which all health and care staff feel empowered to support and participate in clinical research as part of their job.
  2. Patient-centred research: to make access and participation in research as easy as possible for everyone across the UK, including rural, diverse and under-served populations.
  3. Streamlined, efficient and innovative research: so the UK is seen as the best place in the world to conduct fast, efficient and cutting-edge clinical research.
  4. Research enabled by data and digital tools: to ensure the UK has the most advanced and data-enabled clinical research environment in the world, building on our unique data assets to improve health and care.
  5. A sustainable and supported research workforce: which offers rewarding opportunities and exciting careers for all healthcare and research staff of all professional backgrounds – across both commercial and non-commercial research.

To deliver these aims, several priority areas have been identified, such as improving the speed and efficiency of setting up studies, building upon digital platforms to deliver clinical research, and making research more diverse and more relevant to the whole UK. This will break down traditional barriers and deliver a patient-centred and pro-innovation clinical research environment.

Launch of the UK-wide vision will be followed by implementation plans and strategies setting out how the UK government and devolved administrations will begin to deliver the vision during 2021 to 2022.

Dr William van’t Hoff, Chief Executive of the NIHR Clinical Research Network, said:

Clinical research is a core part of an innovative and forward-thinking health and care system. Our learning from the pandemic shows that embedding clinical research within the NHS is achievable and delivers both for patients as well as for the NHS. Through implementation of this vision, more healthcare professionals will be able to become involved in research, improving care and benefiting patients across the country.

The vision reflects the ambition of all 4 UK governments and has been developed through a broad cross-sector approach involving NHS, medical research charities, life sciences industry and academia. Continued collaboration across sectors and organisations will ensure the key action areas will be delivered.

Eluned Morgan, Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing for the Welsh Government, who is responsible for research and development, said:

We promote and support health and care research to ensure it is of the highest international scientific quality, is relevant to the needs and challenges of health and care in Wales, and improves the lives of patients, people and communities. The vision we are presenting today puts clinical research at the heart of what we want to achieve and means that Wales is playing its full part in delivering a world-leading UK research system.

Health Secretary, Scottish Government, Jeane Freeman, said:

Scotland is home to a vibrant and innovative research environment. Through NHS Research Scotland and the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government, world-leading research is led, supported and delivered across our NHS and universities. This has already transformed the lives of patients in Scotland, UK and around the world. The vision for clinical research we are launching today demonstrates continued commitment to build on our strengths, work collaboratively and ensure everyone can benefit from advances in healthcare.

Robin Swann, Minister for Health, Northern Ireland Executive, said:

In Northern Ireland, we are at the midpoint of our 10-year Strategy, ‘Research for Better Health & Social Care’, which sets out how the health, wellbeing and prosperity of the Northern Ireland population benefits from excellent, world-renowned R&D in health and social care. The vision for the delivery of clinical research we are launching today provides added impetus to our plans and ensures we can play our full part in making the UK the best place to carry out innovative research for the benefit of all.

Background information

The vision for the future of UK clinical research delivery has been developed by the UK Recovery, Resilience and Growth programme. This 4-nation cross-sector group is made up of the key organisations involved in the delivery of clinical research in the UK, including:

  • Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)
  • Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC)
  • Chief Scientist Office, Scotland (CSO)
  • Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)
  • Health and Care Research Wales (HCRW)
  • Health Research Authority (HRA)
  • Health and Social Care, Northern Ireland (HSCNI)
  • Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)
  • MedTech industry representation
  • NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE/I)
  • NHS Digital
  • NHSX
  • National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)
  • Office for Life Sciences (OLS)

Development of the vision has been informed by the recommendations of the Life Sciences Council’s Clinical Research Working Group, the Clinical Research Coalition led by Baroness Blackwood, and detailed consultation with NHS, academia, regulators, life sciences industry, medical research charities, patient participants and the public.

Delivery of clinical research across the UK:

  • in England, the NHS is supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) alongside other networks delivering research. As one of the largest national clinical research funders in Europe, NIHR provides the staff, facilities, training and technology that enables research to thrive

  • in Northern Ireland, Health and Social Care Research is supported through the Health and Social Care R&D Division of the Public Health Agency, to deliver on the 10-year strategy, ‘Research for Better Health and Social Care’. This strategy sets out how the health, wellbeing and prosperity of the Northern Ireland population will benefit from excellent, world-renowned R&D in health and social care, that is led from Northern Ireland

  • in Scotland, NHS Research Scotland (NRS) supports clinical research activity, through partnership working between the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government and Scottish Health Boards. NRS works with Scottish universities and other organisations to ensure that Scotland provides the best environment to support clinical research

  • in Wales, the NHS is supported by Health and Care Research Wales, which promotes and supports health and care research, to ensure it is of the highest international scientific quality, is relevant to the needs and challenges of health and care in Wales, and makes a difference to policy and practice in ways that improve the lives of patients, people and communities

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