Public awareness in the UK of clinical research as a core activity in the National Health Service remains relatively low, suggesting that patients could be missing out on opportunities to take part in potentially beneficial clinical trials, a new survey indicates.

The survey by One Poll was commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network (NIHR CRN). The results were published to coincide with International Clinical Trials Day on 21 May.

As the Network points out, the NHS Constitution states that the health service will do all it can to ensure patients are made aware of research opportunities relevant to them. However, One Poll’s researchers found only 21% of the people surveyed were aware that carrying out research is a key activity for the NHS.

More encouragingly, 82% of those surveyed felt it was important that the NHS should offer opportunities to take part in healthcare research, while fewer than 7% said they would never take part in a clinical research study.

Research culture

Obstacles to instilling a true research culture in the health service go beyond public awareness.

In a survey carried out last year for the NIHR CRN by the Health Service Journal, 61% of healthcare respondents said research was peripheral to their NHS Trust, while only 38% agreed that research was embedded in the Trust’s planning and performance at board level.

“Research is core business for the NHS, so we need to encourage patients to be more demanding of their doctors and NHS institutions when it comes to offering the chance to take part in research activity,” commented Dr Jonathan Sheffield, chief executive of the NIHR CRN.

“We also need to do everything we can to encourage a research culture at all levels in the NHS. It is high time that NHS Trust boards put research on their radar.”

Significant progress

There has been “significant progress” towards these objectives in recent years, the NIHR CRN pointed out. The Network recruited more than half a million NHS patient volunteers into research studies last year, a number that “continues to increase”.

It is also sponsoring an award for NHS Trusts that have made the most headway in embracing research at an institutional level.