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12th November 2021

‘Clinical research should be part of all of our jobs’ – A view from Aneurin Bevan Research Nurse

Clinical research plays a vital part in clinical care. When we thread research into the normal day-to-day of our NHS work, we are ensuring the best, most effective treatment for our patients. We also work to avoid putting them though unnecessary and expensive regimes and outdated practices that may harm or prolong recovery.

As nurses, research is embedded in our experience from our pre-registration education right through to those highly specialist nurse research roles where it is the core focus of our job. Even nurses who don’t have research as the core part of their usual role may be involved in the care of patients participating in studies or have responsibility for changing practice when new evidence becomes available. They may also be in the perfect position to see where change is needed and where research efforts could be most effective.

“The coronavirus pandemic has brought the need for clinical research into the public eye more acutely than ever before”

The coronavirus pandemic has brought the need for clinical research into the public eye more acutely than ever before. Studies have cast a wide net over the presentation, prevention and treatment of a brand new and serious illness, working to quickly and objectively identify the most effective treatment and, if it were possible, a vaccine. The roll-out of highly specific studies was done with alacrity but that wouldn’t have been possible if research wasn’t already part of the infrastructure, with expert nurses, who knew what they were doing.

Clinical research nurses were, and still are, a vital part of the core clinical team but they don’t work in isolation. This is something that has been recognised by the National Institute for Health Research in its new scheme, where those who have played a key part in research outside of their substantive role over a sustained period (for example as part of the UK-wide RECOVERY study) can apply for associate principal investigator status. This recognises their commitment and brings the potential for publishing opportunities and further training.

Research is all of our jobs. How else will we know we are delivering the highest quality treatments for our patients? But it doesn’t just stop there. Research is essential for understanding the best in nursing practice as well, and many nurse researchers have a key role in setting the agenda for driving evidence-based change for our profession.

Many patients participate in clinical trials and it is absolutely the responsibility of all nurses to be involved in a way that is appropriate to their role. We need to do more to help all within our profession to understand research processes and have the opportunity to initiate study designs and ideas. The sense that these things have nothing to do with our profession is insulting and often paternalistic.

We know that research delivery is patchy – there are hospitals with no direct clinical research activity, and so there will be nurses who simply don’t come across it. I hope this will change but the reality is that in many places research delivery needs more resources and infrastructure at local level to implement this across the board.

Personally, I think the ideal scenario is that every single patient who comes across our path has the opportunity to be involved in at least one research study. As a clinical research nurse, I see the impact that research has on a daily basis and I am passionate about its delivery. Patients will not always want to take part, but as long as the principles of the consent process are safeguarded and upheld, then embedding the opportunity for research participation into clinical care should become a norm across the breadth of the NHS.

Emma Heron is research nurse at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board