Recovering clinical research in the UK - a blog by Dr Matt Westmore, Chief Executive

Last updated on 23 Mar 2021

The UK research community’s response to tackling COVID-19 has been remarkable in terms of scale, pace and the whole research community coming together.

Collaboration has been the foundation of our success and it’s a real testimony to what can be achieved when we are all working towards the same goal. It has been an honour to work across systems in this way. We now have a unique opportunity to build on these achievements and maximise the learning and experience from COVID-19, to ensure regular research not only resumes, but is more resilient, coordinated and even better than before.

I and others on my team at the HRA have continued to work with research sponsors, other regulators, government and the NHS to plan how we will achieve this. This includes establishing the combined ways of working programme with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to streamline applications that need both HRA and MHRA approvals, and the HRA fast-track research ethics review for non COVID-19 studies that provides research ethics committee review (REC) review in around 15 days, much faster than our statutory target of 60 days. Working across the sector, together we have not only set out our vision, but also strategy and actions for delivery – a road map to the recovery of UK clinical research.

One of our biggest opportunities now is to build on the awareness raised by COVID-19 of clinical research and reinforce the importance, value and safety of research in the UK. There are a range of audiences we must engage – not least public and patients, to increase knowledge and awareness of research, and their confidence to take part when approached. One way to do this is to give people visibility of research. At the HRA we have made a commitment to provide accessible information about approved research, including a summary of results through our research transparency programme, in line with our make it public research transparency strategy

As well as engaging the public and patients, they must also be involved in the design of clinical research. This can ensure outcomes match their needs and studies are designed with real participants in mind. More fundamentally this is also just the right way to do research – it is about patient voice and patient power in the system. During the pandemic our Public Involvement Matching Service helped to increase public involvement in studies from 22% - 85%. We have an ongoing commitment to support researchers to involve patients and the public in their work at the earliest opportunity.

The COVID-19 research has been transparent, delivered at pace and has involved the public in research design. We’ve shown how it can be done and what it can achieve, now the Saving and improving lives: the future of UK clinical research delivery strategy will enable us to embed that in the future of research. Watch this space.

Dr Matt Westmore, Chief Executive.

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