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Improving patient access to research should be key in ICS service planning, says DHSC


By James Hacker
23 March 2021

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Integrated care systems (ICSs) should consider research and innovation as a key element of planning services, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said.

The recommendation was made as part of five key themes outlined in the Government’s roadmap for improving clinical research after the pandemic, published today (23 March).

The document said patients and participants are the ‘foundation’ of research, but access to clinical research in the UK ‘is not currently universal’.

It said to achieve this research delivery should be integrated into ‘day-to-day care and services should make use of new technologies to recruit people ‘where they are’.

This would include designing studies that minimise the number of GP visits by using virtual systems so that research can ‘take place close to home’, it added.

‘In England, the Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) are partnerships between organisations to coordinate services and deliver healthcare in a way that improves population health and reduces inequalities between different groups within their region,’ the document said.

‘Research and innovation should be considered as key contributors to this planning and coordination of services, ensuring equal access to research across an ICS footprint.’

It added that patients and service users must be ‘routinely involved’ in the design of clinical research and that the Government and health services should ‘ensure all patients, their families and their carers are empowered to directly and proactively explore research opportunities’.

Clinical research after Covid

The DHSC also said that the NHS will be encouraged to ‘put delivery of research at the heart of everything they do’ as part of the new plan for clinical research after Covid.

This would mean fostering a workplace culture that encouraged staff to take part ‘in clinical research delivery as part of their job’.

The remaining three focus areas include:

  • Streamlining research to frame the UK as a centre for fast, efficient research
  • Ensuring the UK has the ‘most advanced and data-enabled clinical research environment in the world’
  • Creating a sustainable research workforce, providing rewarding careers and opportunities for all healthcare and research staff.

DHSC added that Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of the UK’s research base, citing clinical trials into Covid treatments, such as dexamethasone, which it said has cut mortality rates by approximately one-third.

‘Important lessons have also been learned from the pandemic about where we can improve, such as empowering healthcare and research workers, who have worked to take care of us during the pandemic, to ensure our workforce is supported and resilient to future challenges,’ it said.

Dr William van’t Hoff, chief executive of the NIHR Clinical Research Network, said: ‘Clinical research is a core part of an innovative and forward-thinking health and care system. Our learning from the pandemic shows that embedding clinical research within the NHS is achievable and delivers both for patients as well as for the NHS.’

He added that ‘through implementation of this vision, more healthcare professionals will be able to become involved in research, improving care and benefiting patients across the country’.

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