In this, my first week as Chief Executive of the HRA, I’ve been reflecting on how the progress we’ve made over the last 12 months can drive future benefits for all of us.
The last year has set a new precedent in the unprecedented use of the word unprecedented! As we patiently sit out what we hope will be the last weeks of the lockdown, with the fruits of research into public health and social interventions sustaining us and vaccines starting to flow through our veins - never has what the HRA and our partners do been so important to so many lives and livelihoods, and been done so quickly.
I want that to be one of the enduring successes of our time - something we can be proud of and build on. I hope we will continue to thrive in a new world of light and colour, where the vibrant UK research sector, public and commercial, remain the envy of the world. One where UK patients, service users, their families and the public, have the best opportunities to get involved with and participate in research, and receive the best treatments and services because of that research. And one where the UK life sciences sector delivers a palette of health, societal, and economic benefits for us all.
Over the last twelve years I have worked for two world class institutions – the National Institute of Health Research and the University of Southampton. My focus has been on improving the art and science of research funding. I’ve done that through promoting patient and public involvement, reducing avoidable waste in research, improving transparency, relevance and quality of research, and developing approaches to innovation and enterprise. I am now proud to join a third world class institution– the HRA.
Joining the HRA
Like a funder, the HRA is at its best when it balances the regulator’s dilemma – to promote better research practice across the sector, approve high-quality research, and push back on proposed studies that don’t meet the standards of ethics review. It’s easy to see that approving poor quality research would be unacceptable, but delaying or prohibiting good quality research would also harm future patients, as well as the economy and society as a whole; research delayed is benefit denied.
Understanding the weight of each side of the balance requires wider stakeholder input – but the holder of the scales must be patients and the public. So whilst we need to deal with many different types of issues, ostensibly across all parts of our sector – I will always keep coming back to questions like – where are the patients? What would a lay person say? What would a service user think? Only then can we deliver the system change we all want and protect and promote the interests of participants in research and the general public at large.
Delivering the system change we all want also requires strategic coordination and collaboration across the sector. I was honoured therefore, on my first day, to be been asked by Lord Bethell to join the Recovery, Resilience and Growth (RRG) Oversight Group. The HRA is playing a key role as one of the delivery partners of the RRG programme, and is leading and collaborating on a number of activities within the programme, including the fast-track ethics review pilot, coordination of guidance on clinical research, and helping to shape the UK’s long term vision for clinical research. More on this soon.
Get in touch
I have already met with a lot of people internally and externally and I couldn’t be more grateful for their time, good wishes and wisdom. This is very helpful to me personally as I get up to speed, but more importantly it means we can plan for HRA’s priorities for the coming months and years together. We are currently gathering feedback from our staff and our volunteers, as well as from stakeholders and users of our systems. Alongside that important work, I want to meet with, speak to, or hear from as many different people as possible from across our network. We’re always learning, and so if you have any other thoughts on what we do well, what we need to improve and what we need to focus on for the future please drop me a line. That will not only help me get up to speed as the newest member of the HRA team, but will help myself and my senior team plan for the future and ensure what we do in the HRA and the wider sector we are part of, continues to be so important to so many.