The National Institute for Health Research has published a new report detailing the progress it has made in improving the delivery of health research to patients and the National Health Service since its birth in 2006.

The NIHR was set up to provide a new framework enabling research in the NHS in England to be pulled together and managed under the same roof, helping to create a platform for carrying out high-quality, government-funded research alongside patient care, education and training and thereby accelerate the translation of research into real clinical benefits.

According to the Institute, NIHR-funded research aims to discover and assess new therapies targeting a wide spectrum of therapeutic areas and, as such, it will only pay for studies if it considers there to be “a clear link to the quality of patient care”. This means that more patients will benefit from cutting-edge research, the organisation claims.

In Delivering Health Research, its progress report for 2008/09, the Institute says it has used its £790 million revenue budget and £31 million capital funding for the year “to create the conditions needed to make a real, tangible difference to people’s health,” and claims that many of its work programmes and partnerships are “promoting England’s reputation as a world leader in applied health research”.

Highlights of progress over the year include: the adoption of 184 contract industry trials, including five for medical technology products; 98,647 people being involved in its Primary Care Research Network studies; and around 4,000 children and families participating in Medicines for Children Research Network studies.

In addition, funding for 12 NIHR Biomedical Research Centres (BRC) “is successfully turning laboratory-based discoveries into new cutting-edge treatments, diagnostic tools and other interventions in clinical settings”, including the world’s first successful gene therapy for a rare form of blindness developed by a team from its BRC at University College of London Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital, it said.

Furthermore, to help research be incorporated into routine clinical practice the NIHR has set up nine new Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care over the year, which are tasked with testing new treatments and ways of working in specific clinical areas to gage their effectiveness and appropriateness for use on the NHS. “Where potential improvements are identified, CLAHRCs will help NHS staff to incorporate them into their daily working practices, so as to provide a better standard of healthcare for patients in the region”, the Institute explained.

On the ball
And to ensure that the NHS keeps up with the emergence of increasingly high-tech interventions for healthcare, such as robots and telecare, the NIHR has set up an Invention for Innovation (i4i) programme designed to accelerate the rate at which ideas for new high-tech products are transformed into methods of prevention, diagnosis and treatment in the health service.

Citing another achievement over the last year, the Institute said 25 NIHR Comprehensive Local Research Networks - which encourage participation clinical studies and provide an infrastructure of research personnel and facilities to support recruitment – have now been established and that every trust in England is now represented on its local CLRN board with other key stakeholders.

Progress has also been made in many other areas, but despite the achievements challenges remain. For one, says Professor Dame Sally Davies, Director General of Research and Development, Department of Health, “it still takes too long and costs too much to obtain all the requisite permissions for clinical trials in the NHS”, and she stressed that “many parts of the NHS still lack adequate professional research management to support researchers in overcoming obstacles”.