Supporting the clinical research workforce is key to achieving the UK’s ambitions

The ambitions to conduct more clinical research in the UK could be achieved by growing and supporting the clinical research workforce, according to the Academy’s latest FORUM report, Shaping the future training and employment environment for clinical research

The Life Sciences Industrial Strategy and the NHS Long Term Plan set out ambitions to improve health outcomes for patients, and grow the economy, by increasing the number of clinical trials conducted in the UK. However, there has been increasing concern that without investment and action, emerging skills gaps may widen, limiting this ambition.

Therefore on 16 July 2019, the Academy of Medical Sciences, in partnership with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and the British Pharmacological Society (BPS), held a joint FORUM workshop to explore these concerns. The workshop brought together thought leaders and decision makers from across the life sciences sector? to help identify the skills, training and employment challenges faced by staff conducting or engaging with clinical research. Participants considered the causal system-wide barriers that lead to these challenges, and how the training and employment environment might be shaped to overcome them. The current COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the importance of clinical research for patient and population health.

Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, President of the British Pharmacological Society and Chair of the FORUM workshop said:

"The UK has an outstanding and enviable clinical research base. Through the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, efforts are already underway to build on this – but a creative approach to supporting the workforce and making best use of all parts of the system will be crucial."

A number of priorities were suggested by participants as ways to boost the ability of the clinical research workforce to conduct and deliver trials:

  • Improve communication about the value of research and how investing in research can help NHS Trusts meet their objectives of providing value for money in healthcare delivery.
  • Ensure that research capability is embedded in national workforce planning, which will help the NHS engage with this issue locally. This could include developing incentives that support investment in research.
  • Enhance the research capabilities and capacities of the workforce through the provision of appropriate education and training, from the beginning of the training pathway into continuous professional development.
  • Ensure that healthcare professionals who have been trained in research have the appropriate ‘support packages’ to enable their practical engagement with it. This includes developing employment models that are ‘fit for purpose’ across the sector, and supporting clinicians and other staff in both primary care and smaller non-teaching hospitalss to engage with research.
  • A greater commitment to expanding the number and diversity of apprenticeships, and incorporating research skills into apprenticeship programmes, to help create a diverse workforce of ‘research ready’ staff capable of engaging with research programmes.

Sir Munir added:

“There is an opportunity to enhance research in primary care in a way that is complementary to commitments in the NHS Long Term Plan to invest in the primary care workforce. Further, the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy recommends investing in clinical pharmacology to help enhance UK clinical trials capability. These efforts will have the best chance of success if approached in partnership with the NHS, where investment in the specialty and skills would pay dividends through reducing harms and supporting the safe and effective use of medicines. There is also the opportunity to strengthen the research capability of a broad range of healthcare professionals such as pharmacists and nurses, who bring different perspectives and skills to the research efforts. These contributions should be recognised, incentivised, and backed up with appropriate training and support.

“A clear message from the FORUM workshop is that research is core part of care – it is not a ‘nice to have’. Demonstrating and communicating the value of research should be part of a broader effort to build research capacity in the NHS, to ensure a ‘research ready’ and ‘research active’ workforce that can benefit patient outcomes and the UK economy.”

The full report from the workshop is now available to view and download online.

Andrew Croydon, Director of Skills and Education policy at the ABPI said:

“We welcome this report highlighting key priorities for helping to ensure evolving skills gaps do not prevent valuable clinical research from continuing in order to benefit patient health. By working with others, we can successfully address the identified priorities and meet the Life Science Sector ambitions for clinical trials.”

The Academy has recently published a new report examining the NHS-academia interface, including the role of people, skills and training in improving collaboration and cross-sector working.

The FORUM is the Academy’s neutral and independent platform for individuals across academia, industry, the NHS, Government, charity, regulatory and the wider healthcare sector to meet and take forward national discussions on scientific opportunities.

Find out more about the FORUM on our website.

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