The number of NHS patients taking part in National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network studies across England was over 67% higher last year than in 2009, the Network says.

New NIHR CRN figures show that more than half a million people participated in Network studies during 2010, compared with 300,000 in the previous year. 

Dr Jonathan Sheffield, chief executive of the NIHR Clinical Research Network, puts the marked improvement partly down to support for research posts and costs in a wider range of National Health Service Trusts.

In the past, Dr Sheffield noted, research activity centred on large teaching hospitals. Casting the net wider “means more patients, in many more locations across England, have access to clinical studies”. 

The NIHR CRN is also working to raise levels of patient awareness about clinical studies, “so that people start to ask their doctor about participating in a research study as part of their care”, Dr Sheffield pointed out, adding: “Today’s figures suggest that all of this activity is gathering momentum”.

While clinical research participation is written into the NHS’ constitution and operating framework, though, the Network acknowledges the need for more groundwork to ensure that all parts of the service embrace the research culture – and particularly in the current constrained economic environment.

“The NHS must make efficiency savings over the next four years,” Dr Sheffield commented. “That means understanding which treatments work best for patients, so we can focus resources in these areas. We need the level of research activity to continue to grow, so we can determine the very best healthcare solutions, and help the NHS to shape its service for the future.”