The new Research Passport should be used as a matter of course to issue honorary contracts for research in the National Health Service, partners in the UK Clinical Research Collaboration have urged.

The UKCRC partners, which include the Health Departments in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well as the NHS, regulators, academia, industry and patients, have issued a statement of endorsement for the passport system, one of a raft of measures designed to harmonise and streamline the administration of research involving NHS patients.

The Research Passport forms part of a wider Human Resources Good Practice Resource Pack for research in the NHS, which is available through the National Institute for Health Research. The system was originally developed and piloted from 2004 in Greater Manchester, with the aim of saving time, money and effort when researchers not employed by the National Health Service, and who have no contractual relationship with the Service, want to work across a number of NHS organisations (e.g., conducting multicentre clinical trials).

The idea is that the new Comprehensive Local Research Networks established by the NIHR will adopt the Research Passport as standard practice and develop working procedures with their local partners. Usually non-NHS staff who want to carry out research in the NHS have to obtain an Honorary Research Contract (HRC). In the past there was no clear UK-wide guidance on the situations in which HRCs were required and how they should be used.

This led to inconsistencies in the way different NHS organisations issued honorary contracts. Moreover, researchers looking to work across multiple NHS sites needed to get a new HRC from each host organisation, each of these involving several pre-engagement checks (e.g., Criminal Records Bureau, occupational health checks).

Good practice
The Research Passport enables pre-engagement checks conducted by non-NHS employers to be shared with NHS organisations, removing the need for duplication. It provides a streamlined standard application system while ensuring consistent and appropriate use of HRCs. It also clarifies good HR practice around the use of pre-engagement checks for researchers who hold honorary clinical contracts or NHS substantive employment contracts, and who wish to conduct research across several NHS organisations.

The system was rolled out across the northwest of England by the North West Strategic Health Authority in 2005. The UKCRC took up further development of the Research Passport through the NHS R&D Forum, including pilots in London, Trent, Tayside, the South Coast, Staffordshire, Shropshire and North Wales between August 2006 and April 2007.

In their statement of endorsement, the UKCRC partners argue that using the Research Passport and the Resource Pack for NHS research will “help to speed up the research project start-up process and initiate research at the earliest opportunity. It will also save valuable resources by reducing duplication of work. For this to happen, the new approach needs to become standard practice”.

Last month the NIHR and the UK Clinical Research Network (UKCRN) said they were postponing the implementation of another system for streamlining and standardising approvals of multicentre clinical trials in the NHS.

The intention was to start operating the NIHR Coordinated System for gaining NHS Permission (NIHR CSP) from April 2008. However, “consultation with a wide range of collaborators indicates that we cannot yet be sure that all of the components of CSP will have been in place for long enough for all key staff to be fully trained and familiar with them,” commented the UKCRN, which is leading the implementation process.