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Four things you might not know about health and care research in the UK

Last updated on 7 Sep 2017

Earlier this summer the HRA published its annual report. Among the detailed review of twelve months’ of work, there are some particularly interesting statistics that we’d like to share:

1. More than 1,000 volunteers help to make health and care research happen

The UK is one of the best places in the world to conduct health research, and as Health Minister Lord O’Shaughnessy recently said, the benefits of research are clear  more advanced and effective treatments for NHS patients both now and in the future.

Research can only happen thanks to the expertise and dedication of a large number of volunteers.

Our Research Ethics Committees that review health research are made up of volunteers who give their time willingly and freely, as is our Confidentiality Advisory Group that provides recommendations on specific research and non-research projects that need to access confidential patient information without consent. They all rely on people who give their time to make the system work. You can find out more about applying to become a member of a research ethics committee on our website.

Our National Research and Ethics Advisors’ Panel also plays a key role in offering advice to the HRA, and is now a larger, virtual volunteer panel, representing a much wider range of expertise, including specialists in social care research.

2. 100% of health research summaries are published

To aid transparency we publish information on all projects that have been approved and decisions that have been made by us. Last year, summaries of 100 per cent of all UK health research projects that gained ethical approval were published.

Last year, 100 per cent of all summaries (other than the small amount that have been deferred) of UK health research projects that required ethical approval were published. The summaries appear on a database that can be found on the HRA website.

Transparency of research is essential so that participants are protected from unnecessary research and patients benefit from improved outcomes and care informed by high quality research. There’s still areas for the sector to improve on, but we’re pleased to be encouraging transparency in the area we regulate.

3. 5,000 applications have already benefitted from the new HRA Approval process

If you’re a regular follower of the HRA’s work you may have seen this already, but more than 5,000 applications have now been approved by our expert teams since the new HRA Approval system was fully implemented last March.

The streamlined process looks to be really benefitting researchers. Read our feature on HRA Approval one year on for a summary of progress to date, and our Interim Chief Executive Teresa Allen’s recent blog to learn how we’re doing more to help applicants develop high quality, well prepared studies.

4. The public sets the bar for what is acceptable

Health research can be a complicated picture, and with developments in medicine and technology and its implications for our health, it is a fast-evolving one too.

The HRA is tasked with protecting and promoting the interests of patients and the public, and that means making sure the public’s view is front and centre in every decision we make.

It’s no surprise then that public involvement and engagement is an integral part of our work. Patients and members of the public on our HRA Public Involvement Network have helped us to recruit staff at the HRA, re-designed and developed content for our website and have worked with us to develop and deliver staff training. We also make sure that we understand the views and concerns of the public, which is why we regularly seek the opinions and views of the general public through public consultation exercises. All of this makes sure we’re asking the right questions when we see health research proposals.

A good example would be the recent public engagement work that has informed the work of the Confidentiality Advisory Group. The public’s views fed straight into that group, and inform its advice to NHS Digital around when it is acceptable to process confidential patient information without consent.

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