The National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network (NIHR CRN) is launching a new tool to show National Health Service Trusts in England how well they are delivering across different therapy areas on their obligation to promote clinical research studies.

The tool will debut at this year’s NHS Confederation Annual Conference in Manchester on 20-22 June, where NHS Trust chief executive officers will be offered a clinical research ‘health-check’ to pin down statistics such as how many research studies the Trust took part in last year, how many patients it recruited, and how much research is being conducted across a range of medical conditions.

The NHS Constitution imposes a duty on all Trusts to promote opportunities for patients to take part in clinical research studies. The NIHR CRN has been collecting study-delivery data for some time now for its Clinical Research Network Portfolio, which records each study delivered by the Network in the NHS, as well as patient-recruitment data for those studies.

Previously, though, the NIHR CRN lacked a mechanism to break down the data into therapy areas and to show it in a format that would make clear to NHS Trusts where their relative strengths and weaknesses lay in terms of delivering recruitment opportunities, the Network explained.

“The work we have just done to create the tool was an attempt to exploit the intelligence we collect, and share it with Trusts so they can act on it,” commented Louise Wood, communications director for the NIHR CRN.

Push strategy

The initiative is part of a broader ‘push’ strategy to raise the profile of clinical research performance in Trusts and encourage a more vigorous research culture in the NHS overall.

Last November, for example, the Network started publishing “league tables” showing the total number of research studies undertaken by each NHS Trust over the last year, as well as the total number of patients involved, on the website of The Guardian newspaper.

This was the first time information about the relative performance of NHS Trusts in this area had been put in the public domain.

If there is to be a genuine research culture in the NHS that delivers on patient demand for research opportunities across the board, then Trusts should know where their strengths and weaknesses lie, the NIHR CRN believes.

“So if a Trust is doing 50 studies, but they are all in cancer, we want people (Trust management, clinicians and patients) to have sight of that, and be able to question it,” Wood said.

While research should ideally be core business across all therapy areas in the NHS, “in reality there is a mixed picture”, noted Dr Jonathan Sheffield, chief executive officer of the NIHR Clinical Research Network.

“We know that cancer patients stand a very good opportunity of being offered a place in a clinical study, but it can be more patchy in other areas of medicine,” Sheffield added.

“By showing each NHS Trust a snapshot of their research activity, split by disease area, we can help them to understand where they might want to develop their research offer to patients.”