UK Health Secretary Alan Johnson has announced plans to give as many patients as possible the opportunity to take part in clinical trials conducted in the National Health Service.

Speaking at a summit hosted by Prime Minister Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street this week to commemorate 60 years of NHS research, Mr Johnson said: “I want every patient in the NHS to have the right to take part in approved medical research that is appropriate form them, if they choose to. And to underline the paramount importance of research, we will set out in the forthcoming NHS Constitution the core role that it plays at the heart of the NHS.”

Under the proposals, patients from all parts of the country, with any illness or disease, will be made aware of ongoing research that is of particular relevance to them. They will be notified through care records, in confidence, about opportunities for them to join in clinical trials. In addition, new measures will enable medical staff to obtain information about approved clinical trials being conducted in the NHS throughout the country and pass this information on to relevant patients.

Together, these measures will constitute to a clear, co-ordinated framework, reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and help eligible patients who wish to take part in research to be able to do so, swiftly and easily, says the Department of Health.

Mr Johnson also announced the establishment of Academic Health Science Centres, whose purpose will be to improve the quality of life for patients and populations by taking discoveries and promoting their application in the NHS and across the world. This will be achieved by bringing together world-class research teaching and patient care through strong partnerships of the education, research and clinical functions of leading hospitals and universities, says the Department.

These new initiatives to involve patients more closely in the research endeavour will strengthen health research still further, said Sir David Cooksey, author of the Review of UK Health Research Funding 2006. “One of the key factors underpinning the quality, scope and vibrancy of research in this country is the opportunity for partnership working between research funders, universities, the NHS and industry,” he added.

Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, Harpal Kumar, said the announcement was “extremely welcome, given that it helps to place health research at the core of the NHS. This is good news for patients, both now and in the future," he said.

Dr Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, added that the initiatives “will help to ensure that research becomes a normal part of the business of the NHS and that patients are provided every opportunity to become partners in research aimed at health improvement.”

- In a New Year message to NHS employees this year, Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave his backing to the idea of an NHS Constitution which would, he said, set out the rights and responsibilities linked to entitlement to NHS care and help secure the Service’s future for another 60 years. The proposal - which is widely expected to be addressed by Professor Lord Ara Darzi in his upcoming Review of the NHS - was first mooted in September 2006 by then Health Minister Andy Burnhan. In a pamphlet written for the Labour think tank Progress, he wrote that an NHS Constitution would be “one way to give permanent reassurance about our enduring values without stifling local innovation.”

It would “set out the values and principles we share and that are not up for debate, while providing the framework within which any changes could take place. In a similar way to the BBC Charter process, the NHS Constitution could be renewed every 10 years through a wide-ranging and inclusive debate about what we want our NHS to be in the future,” wrote Mr Burnham.