Research and innovation in the NHS is vital to ensure that new research ideas are developed into new treatments and services to help patients. Studies have shown that patients cared for in research-active acute NHS Trusts are more likely to experience better outcomes and this view is held by the public too. In times of significant financial constraint, research and innovation will be essential if we are to do things differently, be more sustainable, and deliver better quality outcomes and services for patients and carers.
Members of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) funded 31% of non-commercial research supported by the NIHR Clinical Research Network in 2017/18. A total of 200,000 participants were recruited into 1,362 charity-funded clinical studies. Our members fund research into the causes of disease, new diagnostics and treatments, disease prevention, disease management and health services. Many also deliver a range of other activities, including social care, support and education as part of holistic, patient-centred approaches.
The five-year funding settlement (2019-24) and the long-term plan for the NHS present a huge opportunity for NHS England to position research and innovation as being fundamental to the sustainability of the NHS and patient outcomes. The long-term plan provides an opportunity to reset the ambitions for the health and care system. It is vital that these are underpinned by research and innovation and are backed by appropriate policies, funding and culture.
The AMRC’s contribution to NHS England’s long-term plan has been a truly joint piece of work supported by member contributions and feedback. We have made proposals for how NHS England should support research and innovation under three key themes: patients and the public, workforce and systems.
Engagement with patients, carers and the public in research and innovation is at the centre of our proposals and must be woven throughout the NHS. More patients need to be given the opportunity to take part in research. The increasing numbers of people with multiple long-term conditions also means that we need to think differently about how we do research and the NHS has a real opportunity to support this. The research workforce and the digital health agenda were clear priorities for our members. They also emphasised the importance of prevention, which we echoed in support for public health funding.
The NHS has the potential to test and implement innovative new treatments by using the latest research findings. This means the best possible treatments are made available sooner to all patients. The AMRC welcomes government commitments to speeding up the process of turning research findings into treatments. The Accelerated Access Collaborative is looking into new ways of accelerating uptake of innovation into the NHS.
Utilising digital and data across the NHS has huge potential to drive the development of new treatments as well as supporting patient management and care. To truly unlock this potential, consistent standards and infrastructure must be developed and implemented across the NHS in order to link the valuable data that exists across the system.
Ultimately, patient data enables researchers to improve and save lives and we work closely with Understanding Patient Data to communicate the value of data to patients, carers and the public. More information is available here. We work with NHS Digital, Health Data Research UK, the Department of Health and Social Care and others to ensure that this data is joined up and readily accessible to our members.
Many medical research charities are in a unique position in having an expert knowledge of, and trusted access to, patients and carers, enabling them to represent their unmet needs and lived experience. That connection means charities can take a leading role in developing new data-driven technologies, such as AI, by ensuring patient participation as they are developed. Charities also hold valuable data about patients, for example in registries, which has great potential to underpin these new technologies and ensure they are put to best use.
The size and scale of the NHS is particularly important for research into rare and less common diseases, where multi-centre studies are the only way to access the numbers of patients needed for robust research. Pan-EU or multi-nation approaches to clinical trials are also crucial for these patients.