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A big step towards cutting red tape for research

by Dan Bridge | Analysis

2 April 2014

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The best way to find out whether a new cancer treatment works is to test it through clinical studies involving cancer patients.

A big part of our work involves running more than 200 clinical trials seeking to bring new, kinder treatments to patients across the UK.

And our ability to run these studies depends on the NHS.

Providing the facilities to recruit participants, and monitor and care for these patients while supporting the staff who run the trial.

But the process of approving research to be run within the NHS can be slow and cumbersome, holding up potentially life-saving trials.

So Monday’s announcement of a £4.5 million Government funding boost to improve the way research is approved in the NHS is fantastic news for patients and researchers across the country.

Ultimately we want it to be as easy as possible to run clinical research studies in the UK.

This includes more opportunities for patients to take part in trials to boost our understanding of cancer and find new ways to treat it.

So what does the Government’s injection of funding mean for research, and more importantly, the patients who could benefit from it?

Breaking down barriers

Current 'red tape' can create a barrier for approval of research

Current ‘red tape’ can create a barrier for setting up research

Obviously, it’s important that there are regulations controlling clinical trials to protect patients.

Regulations also make sure that studies are run according to scientific and ethical standards, and likely to come up with meaningful results.

But at the moment, excessive ‘red tape’ is creating barriers to setting up vital clinical studies in the UK.

In some situations the task of making crucial checks that help a study run smoothly are being duplicated across all the organisations involved in running the research.

For example, if we want to run a study in more than one town or city in the UK (as we usually do) these checks have to be done for every hospital where we want to recruit patients

As a result, trials can be delayed; costs increase and patients can miss out on taking part in research and getting access to the very latest developments in treatment.

It’s clear this situation must change.

Along with other medical research charities we’ve played a major role in shouting about these problems and calling for Government to look at how to improve the system.

And this latest funding boost should provide a push in the right direction.

What’s changing?

The updated approach will provide a single assessment for a research study which can then operate in all hospitals in the UK.

Researchers will no longer have to get the green light from every hospital they want to run a study in.

Instead there will be a single seal of approval supporting a study’s robustness and quality that will be recognised across the whole of the UK. This will significantly cut down on duplication of regulatory checks and speed up the process of setting up trials.

And with a streamlined system, more people can take part in clinical trials and new treatments will reach patients quicker than before.

When will it happen?

While we’re happy with this announcement, we know there’s a lot of work still to be done.

Managing change in the NHS, especially on research issues, can be tricky and time consuming. Initially the Health Research Authority (HRA, the body that oversees regulation of research in the NHS) will set up a team to plan and implement the process.

Once these plans are in place, the new system will be rolled out as new applications to do research come in – this is expected to be by the end of 2015 and will be for all studies in England initially. Trials that are already being set up can expect to get moving more quickly, as the HRA is hoping to bring in more general improvements to their systems and processes.

Effective, efficient health research policies and processes aren’t the most obvious thing to think of when it comes to saving lives through research, but they’re an absolutely essential part of the picture.

This move is a big ‘thumbs up’ from the Government in support of clinical research within the NHS.

Recognising the massive impact this measure could have for UK clinical research means that everyone from researchers, to NHS managers and – most importantly patients – will be pushing for it to succeed.

Dan Bridge is a policy manager at Cancer Research UK

Barrier image from Flickr