Attending the NHS Research and Development (R&D) Forum conference – a blog by Jen Harrison, HRA Change Manager

Last updated on 26 May 2023

It’s been four years in the making, but finally we made it to Gateshead. The R&D Forum annual conference was back, and back with vengeance. 850 people who make research happen, were signed up to come together over two days - nearly double any previous conference - to listen, learn and network. My role as Change Manager needs me to have great relationships with those working in the R&D community and I have known some for over 20 years.

Networking, seeing old friends, meeting new people, and building new connections is the backbone of the R&D Forum conference.

My role is to support organisations who deliver research, as well as those who run and sponsor it. I aim to improve their understanding of HRA requirements and share examples to help them implement any changes. I also listen to any issues or feedback and bring them back to HRA so we can improve our ways of working. What better way to gather these examples than to hear from the wealth of practice on show at the Forum.

The conference, run in association with the HRA, has evolved over time. In recent years, it’s moved away from all invited speakers to presentations delivered by the community, showcasing local projects, best practice and service improvements being undertaken by professionals involved in research. And the conference is all the better for it. I sit on the planning committee and the number and quality of abstracts for both posters and presentations increase year on year.

What is noticeable is that whilst innovative ideas across the abstracts are varied, key themes emerge. One of those themes was improving inclusion and diversity in research. Professor Bola Owolabi, Director of the National Healthcare Inequalities Improvement Programme at NHS England, in the opening plenary stated that trust has become the social determinant of health. People need to see themselves in the data to enable trust. With innovative ideas and practices on the ground, there is a change building to achieve this across the sector. During the afternoon session, Professor Mahendra Patel, Pharmacy and Inclusion and Diversity Lead at the University of Oxford, provided practical examples on how the Principle and PANAROMIC COVID trials reached out to underrepresented communities.

There was a real buzz in the air about how we can all work together to make it easier to do research people can trust. There are opportunities with the new CT regulations and looking at how we work to undertake more research outside of traditional hospital settings, such as community trusts, primary care, and non-NHS settings.

We were involved in sessions on accelerating research through use of UK site agreements, looking at how research is delivered in the UK, and the important role data and digital will play in the future of research. Key to achieving this is having working systems in place and a shared purpose, something I spoke about with colleagues from ARMA and R&D Forum. People should be at the centre of clinical research, so it was fantastic to be able to update the community on our People-Centred Clinical Research project.

What next?

As I make my way back down south, I am reflecting on how we act on feedback, ideas and new learning. We have inclusion as a key strand of our strategy and are currently co-creating guidance to support inclusion in research. We are working with our partners and talking to the research community to streamline the research process.

Individually and collectively, we need to be brave and try new approaches to ensure we make it easy to do research that all people can trust, and hope that this will be seen in the data by the time we meet again in Newport in 2024.

Jen Harrison, Change Manager at the HRA
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