Season's Greetings from the HRA

Last updated on 18 Dec 2023
A headshot of Dr Matt Westmore

Matt Westmore, Chief Executive

As we reach the end of another year, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on all we have achieved during 2023 at the HRA, and I think there’s plenty to be merry about.

2023 in numbers

Without the HRA Community supporting our dedicated staff, the HRA simply couldn’t exist, so firstly, I wanted to say a huge thanks to all those who work with us year round to help make it easy to do research that people can trust.

Our Research Ethics Committees (RECs) across England have provided opinions on over 3,000 new research projects. There are now over 900 members of our 64 RECs and they reviewed 96% of studies this year in under 60 days. Read our REC annual report 2022/23 for more on their achievements.

Meanwhile our Confidentiality Advisory Group (CAG), has provided expert advice on 120 applications this year. CAG plays a crucial role making sure that the use of confidential patient information without consent is done in the best interests of patients and the public. The rapid development of Artificial Intelligence has been a hot topic in 2023 and offers huge potential for health and social care research. This year, we’ve recruited new CAG members with expertise in this evolving field and look forward to working together in 2024.

Throughout 2023, members of the public have also been a valued part of our Community, and our Public Involvement Network (PIN) has spent 214 days supporting HRA projects this year, making sure that all our work is done with and for the public. From projects such as our Make it Public campaign for research transparency to supporting staff recruitment, we’re really pleased to share insights into some of their involvement via our regular ‘What difference is public involvement making to our work?’ features.

The spirit of collaboration

The core purpose of the HRA relies on collaboration and partnership across the health and research sector, and these are the foundations upon which our 2023 highlights have been possible.

A key pillar in the HRA strategy is to include, and our people-first approach has been evidenced in our hallmarks of good people-centred clinical research which we launched this year. Co-created with members of the public, the research community and the University of Lincoln, these guiding principles help researchers understand how to design and conduct research based on the issues that matter most to people when they consider taking part.

We developed quality standards and design and review principles to improve information for people taking part in research. We’re now asking all applicants to use these and know that they will help our ethics committees to review participant information more consistently.

There’s also been brilliant progress in our work supporting diversity in research; we commissioned a YouGov poll earlier in the year which found widespread public support for diversity in research, even if it costs more money and time. Next year, we’ll launch a Diversity Plan to make sure clinical research is designed to include people who could benefit from the findings, and that people underserved by research are not overlooked.

We are also proud to co-ordinate and standardise research practice across the UK. We helped to develop the National Contract Value Review (NCVR) which has helped new studies to start 100 days quicker, meaning trials will reach patients more quickly and sponsors can be confident to place their studies here.

The government has recently published its full response to Lord O’Shaughnessy's independent review into commercial clinical trials, which we warmly welcomed. NCVR was a key recommendation in this report, and we were delighted that his views are well reflected in what we will focus on to support research people can trust in 2024.

You can read more about our impact in 2023 and our plans for 2024 in this brilliant infographic.

I couldn’t cover collaboration without mentioning the fantastic growth of our Shared Commitment to public involvement. Following its launch last year, we now have 21 partners across the health and research sector who have pledged drive up standards by improving the quality of public involvement in research.

In September, we combined the expertise of our REC, CAG and PIN members into a newly formed Community Committee. This group is now part of our governance structure and will advise the HRA Board to make sure we remain true to our strategy and values.

Christmas wishes for 2024

In the new year, we wish for continued developments in the UK clinical research landscape, and look forward to playing a big role in these.

We are consulting on and developing new clinical trials regulations with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), with the hope to foster more pragmatic and innovative ways of doing clinical research. These regulations will play a big role in our advocacy for research transparency in 2024.

Finally, in true Christmas spirit, I’d like to share my thanks to all those who have enriched the work of the HRA this year and supported our vision. Whether you are a research participant, a member of our HRA Community, or a member of staff, you are very valued.  I wish you a merry Christmas and a very happy new year.

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