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Goodbye and thank you – we have achieved a lot together: A blog by Teresa Allen, HRA Chief Executive

Last updated on 28 Jan 2021

This is my last blog as Chief Executive, and I want to use it as a chance to reflect on some of the highlights of my career. We’ve achieved so much together over the last four and a half years and couldn’t have done it without the engagement and feedback we’ve had from a whole range of stakeholders and of course our amazing volunteer members.

Teresa Allen, HRA Chief Executive

This is my last blog as Chief Executive, and I want to use it as a chance to reflect on some of the highlights of my career. We’ve achieved so much together over the last four and a half years and couldn’t have done it without the engagement and feedback we’ve had from a whole range of stakeholders and of course our amazing volunteer members.

When I started my career in the NHS 42 years ago as a biomedical scientist, my ambition was to make a difference to patients. I have worked in many teams across the NHS and the Commercial Sector and have never been afraid to try something new and grab opportunities with both hands. You never know where it is going to take you!

Research, evaluation and volunteers have been a constant for me, alongside ethics, safety and quality. I’ve worked with thousands of volunteers who helped me set up a blood transfusion laboratory in Sierra Leone in response to the Ebola outbreak; volunteers who donated blood and stem cells to the British Bone Marrow registry and more recently volunteers who have supported us deliver safe and ethical research. We could not run the NHS without the altruism of so many people.

The HRA is an NHS organisation and we make a difference to patients. This has been particularly true with our COVID response. We have had a direct effect on patient care during one of the most challenging years in modern memory. The response to this huge challenge by our staff, volunteers and the partners we work with has been absolutely phenomenal. We’ve seen a huge volume of COVID-19 research applications – over 800 studies - not to mention all of the amendments to existing studies.

'We can’t afford to sit still'

We need to be there to support the incredible researchers across the UK and make things easy for them to do what they do for the benefit of the public.

With this in mind, we created the integrated approvals service, one of the biggest changes in the organisation’s history. Work is underway to redevelop our Integrated Research Application System (IRAS), responding to feedback that it is too complicated and clunky. We’ve secured new investment to drive forward this work to make IRAS easier to use and create visibility of information about the results of research.

Alongside this technology development, we are streamlining and accelerating our services building on our work during the pandemic. I’m particularly excited about our new fast-track ethics review service for global clinical and phase I trials, currently being run as a pilot.

Public involvement in research is extremely important to the HRA and we are proud to co-produce activity like our UK COVID-19 public involvement matching service. We want to do more of this in the future and encourage our stakeholders to continue to work with us closely.

We must look forward and support our UK life sciences industry - we must continue to learn and not go back.

This pandemic has brought the research community together at a national level and delivered rapid outcomes to help us understand what treatments do and do not work against this virus. The whole research journey becoming a well-oiled supply chain is the future where we work together to overcome hurdles. We have proved to the international community that the UK can do health research really well. I’d like to see non-COVID clinical trials up and running again and attracting more of these to the UK. The opportunity is ours to take, and I wish our new CEO Matt Westmore all the very best for the future.

As for me after the pandemic, I’d like to travel, and I’ve also gone back to university to study archaeology! But having spent my whole career in the NHS, I plan to continue to support it in some way - perhaps through a voluntary or a non-executive role. But for now, I want to thank everyone who works to support health and social care research for the excellent work you do which has never been more important. It has been a great privilege to work with you.

Thank you and best wishes,

Teresa Allen

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