Dr Jonathan Sheffield, chief executive of the National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network, has done a lovely piece for BBC News online about public attitudes to taking part in clinical trials and why research is so important to the NHS. It’s definitely worth a read but what caught my eye was this great little stat: 82% of the public think it is important for the NHS to offer opportunities to take part in clinical research, and fewer than 7% said they would never take part.
The figures are from a 2012 survey conducted by One Poll on behalf of the National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network (NIHR CRN). They echo the AMRC’s own 2011 survey, which found that 72% of respondents would like to be offered opportunities to be involved in trials of new medicines.
It’s clear that the public think research is incredibly important – AMRC’s poll found that 97% of people think the NHS should support research and both surveys reveal the public’s eagerness to take part in research.
But the survey also found that only 21% of people were aware that carrying out research is a key activity for the NHS (the Health and Social Care Act 2012 puts a legal responsibility on the Secretary of State, NHS Commissioning Board and the Clinical Commissioning Groups to promote research). This is a pretty interesting finding and shows – and indeed Jonathan says in his article – that there’s a need for more awareness-raising about research in the NHS.
The UK Clinical Research Collaboration has this great website where you can meet the people involved in NHS research and the government has established the UK clinical trials gateway so that we can all find out about research studies relevant to us. Charities also play a key role in communicating these issues to their supporters and patient groups so that they can ask for opportunities and decide for themselves whether to take part or not. It’s important the public can make informed decisions and it’s great both the NHS and charities are working hard to give the public useful information. But the 21% figure suggests we might have further to go!
Just allowing researchers access to medical records allows them to identify patients who might be suitable for research studies and make connections between lifestyle and diseases, for example, which is why AMRC and NIHR have co-produced a leaflet to help people understand how valuable their data is for researchers and how it might be used.
Research is incredibly important to improving healthcare. With the right regulation and governance, and public support, the NHS can be a really attractive place to do research – this will help attract investment to the UK, helping the economy as well as our health.