The NHS is always looking for better ways to treat and cure its patients and actively encourages clinical research across all UK hospitals.
You may not have realised, but most care that patients receive in hospitals and from their local GPs has come about as a result of clinical research. This includes new medicines both to cure and prevent illness, different types of tests used for diagnosis, and even the way that services are organised and staff are trained.
Clinical research is a scientific way of identifying which medicines and other healthcare tools work best, are the safest, and are the most acceptable to patients. Another type of research could be comparing the costs of different ways of providing treatment, so that the NHS can become as cost-efficient as possible. Research carried out in the NHS is done to the highest internationally recommended standards and is closely monitored and governed meaning that patients rights, safety and well-being are always ensured.
Ultimately, high-quality clinical research means the NHS can improve future healthcare for everyone... pretty great don't you think?
Participation in clinical research could also involve asking patients and/or carers to consent to processes in addition to their normal care. Examples of this are:
One of the most common types of research study is known as a clinical trial.
Clinical trials are a particular type of research which normally compare one treatment to another. They are the most accurate method that scientists have of testing what works best - and there are thousands of trials being carried out each year in a huge range of clinical areas within both the NHS and private industry.
What types of treatments may a participant in a clinical trial receive? Most clinical trials need to include at least two groups of participants, who are taking different types of treatments. This is so that researchers can compare how well treatment A works vs treatment B, A participant may receive a new treatment which is undergoing investigation, or the best current standard treatment for their condition. Some trials include patients who take a ‘placebo’ – a medicine or treatment which appears the same as the comparator treatment, but has no clinical effect. This can only be done when researchers are not sure whether there is any existing treatment that can already improve a patients health.
Who decides which treatment trial participants will receive? The type of treatment patients receive is decided by a random list which is kept secret – patients and doctors cannot choose which treatment they will receive. This type of trial is called a ‘randomised controlled trial’. Using a random list is important to reduce the chance of bias in the trial, as the doctors and patients cannot know which treatment is the next to be allocated.
Will a participant know which type of treatment they are receiving? Patients and doctors may not know which treatment they have been given, meaning that they cannot influence the research results. For example, a patient may report more or less pain, according to their knowledge of whether they are receiving an active treatment or a placebo. This is known as a ‘blind’ trial. In an emergency, special procedures can be followed to find out which treatment the patient is taken, so that they can receive the most appropriate medical care.
What do participants in a clinical trial have to do? In addition to taking a treatment or having a new diagnostic test, participants in clinical trials will often be asked to come to the hospital for extra visits so that additional data and samples can be collected for the research. These visits may be organised in addition to a patient’s normal clinical care. A patient's involvement in a trial may last for just a couple of weeks, or may last a couple of years, depending on what the researchers are investigating. Each trial requires a different level of involvement from participants as they all measure different things, so this is explained to patients before they consent to participate.