By Rebecca Goldberg, Interim Research Policy Manager, AMRC

Published: 5 September 2019 

Our healthcare has come a long way since the NHS was first established, but we must never forget the critical role research and innovation have played in driving the medical advances that have improved and saved countless lives.

The NHS provides a unique environment to carry out research. Not only can it make a difference to the patients of tomorrow, but also to those who are being treated right now. Studies have also shown that patients cared for in research-active NHS trusts are more likely to experience better outcomes.

In the NHS’s Long Term Plan – published in January this year – a number of commitments for research and innovation were set out:

  1. Making it easier to undertake research in the NHS
  2. Increasing patient participation in research
  3. Improving the adoption of innovation

We hope that these commitments will see research and innovation flourish in the NHS, enabling the continued protection and improvement of people’s health throughout the UK.

What is the NHS doing to achieve these commitments?

So far, we’ve seen plans to introduce performance metrics to enable more research to be carried out within the NHS. To make it easier to conduct this research, the NHS is also simplifying the contract review process for commercial research and introducing an unbiased approach to non-commercial research that incurs excess treatment costs.

The NHS is planning on introducing a ‘right to be referred’ to participate in research into their constitution, as well as launching a function on the NHS app to allow patients to view research participation opportunities and register their interest. Once these changes are implemented, we should see a considerable increase in patient participation in research within the NHS.

NHS England and NHS Improvement have rolled-out new improvements to the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC). The AAC, which aims to do exactly what it says on the tin; speed up access to innovations, will provide support packages for both proven and high-potential early-stage products, a simpler system for innovators to navigate, improved horizon scanning, and more joined-up investments for game changing innovations.

Charities are imperative to all of this, not just as a unique part of the health landscape in the UK or for their networks of patients and healthcare professionals, but as innovators themselves. Earlier this year, AMRC’s Chief Executive joined the AAC Board to provide a collective voice for the medical research charity sector.

Strengthening AAC’s relationship with charities

On 25 July 2019, AMRC with NHS England and NHS Improvement, hosted a joint workshop for AMRC members to provide input and explore the potential role charities could take to work more closely with the AAC.

The workshop explored how to get more people involved in research, how to empower them, and what tools to give them to enable them to demand innovation. It also identified cross-cutting areas of unmet need that matter most to people with lived experience.

Although some medical research charities already flag relevant research trials for people to get involved with, attendees agreed that a coordinated approach or one-stop shop across the whole system for advertising trials would likely increase participation. Other key ideas included consistent and clear messaging across the health system on the importance of research participation, tackling some of the myths of research, embedding flagging of research trials into general care pathways, and developing a live map of innovations on offer at different NHS Trusts.

With so many charities with a range of health focuses in the room, the AAC were keen to identify some areas of cross-cutting unmet need to help take a non-condition specific approach for supporting innovations. Workshop attendees identified the following areas: symptom management, social care, mental health, self-management, big data, prevention, workforce capacity and capability, and multi-morbidities.

Next steps

The AAC have taken these ideas on board and will continue to build on them. The immediate next steps will see the AAC:

  • Work closely with AMRC to develop a patient, public and medical research charity involvement approach that spans the work of the AAC and the research ambitions in the NHS Long Term Plan
  • Work up and trial some of the ‘patient pull’ ideas in a specific disease area
  • Communicate the cross-cutting areas of unmet need to innovators as priority areas

So, watch this space!

If you’d like to know more about research and innovation within the NHS, you can read more on our website or contact [email protected].