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Embedding a research culture

We work with health organisations and the NHS to improve the environment for health and care research in England.

Clinical research is everyone's future

Health and care professionals undertake a range of roles in clinical research. Whether they're leading research in their field of interest, a co-applicant or principal investigator for studies, advising sponsors or sites about the shape and feasibility of their research or taking a leading and essential role in recruitment and delivery of studies - every role and every professional is important.

Health and care professionals have a pivotal role to play in promoting participation in clinical trials to patients and the public.


Encouraging a research-positive culture in health and care organisations is important to give patients wider access to clinical research and improve patient care and treatment options.

Evidence shows clinically research-active hospitals have better patient care outcomes.

Patients admitted to more research‐active hospitals have more confidence in staff and are better informed about their condition and medication: Results from a retrospective cross‐sectional study

The correlation between National Health Service trusts' clinical trial activity and both mortality rates and care quality commission ratings: a retrospective cross-sectional study

Research activity and the association with mortality

High hospital research participation and improved colorectal cancer survival outcomes: a population-based study

Does the engagement of clinicians and organisations in research improve healthcare performance: a three-stage review

Saving and Improving lives: The Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery (DHSC Strategy)

Published in March 2021, this Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) Strategy outlines the way forward to build back research better following the pandemic.

The response to COVID-19 has showcased the clear link between research and better outcomes for individuals and the NHS. Seizing this momentum, the strategy looks to the future of clinical research as the single most important way in which we improve our healthcare – by identifying the best means to prevent, diagnose and treat conditions. It aims to bolster delivery of innovative research across all phases and all conditions, right across the UK.

There are five main themes:

  • Clinical Delivery Embedded in the NHS
  • Patient Centred Research
  • Streamlined, efficient and innovative clinical research
  • Research delivery enabled by data and digital tools
  • A sustainable and supported research delivery workforce

There are seven main actions:

  • Improving the speed and efficiency of study set-up
  • Building upon digital platforms to deliver clinical research
  • Increasing the use of innovative research designs
  • Aligning our research programmes and processes with the needs of the UK health and care systems
  • Improving visibility and making research matter to the NHS
  • Making research more diverse and more relevant to the whole UK
  • Strengthening public, patient and service user involvement in research

Supporting NHS research

In 2017, NHS England and the NIHR published a joint statement committing to 12 actions to support and apply research in the NHS. Three of these actions relate to how the NIHR works with the NHS both simplifying research processes and research priorities. 

Simplifying NHS research processes

We’ve been working with NHS England and NHS Improvement, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the Health Research Authority and others to:

Articulating the NHS’s own research priorities better

NHS England’s Research Needs Assessment 2018 summarises the information and areas for research identified by NHS England, to provide an early signal of potential research requirements across the wider clinical portfolio. We are now developing a number of funding calls to commission research in the areas identified by the needs assessment.

Another relates to setting out local NHS research and innovation priorities of Academic Health Science Networks and Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships.

The consultation we jointly commissioned with the NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE/I) and the Academic Health Science Network identified the need for innovation and research around:

  • Developing the current and future workforce
  • Delivering mental health services and providing care for patients with mental health issues
  • Integrating services to provide for patients with complex needs such as – multimorbidities, frailty, and for older people and socially isolated people or communities

The findings will be used to facilitate further discussions involving patients and the public and the research community to refine the priorities and better understand the local context and challenges.

Research engagement case studies

The research engagement case studies showcase examples of best practice initiatives for engaging staff in NHS care settings to develop a research active culture. This selection of case studies have been categorised into five themes:

Generating a research culture

Generating a research culture requires innovation, creativity and excellent engagement skills. The stories below are written by frontline research delivery staff and exemplify how this can be achieved in NHS organisations.

How can you get others involved? 

Staff at Nottingham University Hospitals describe how they encourage clinical staff to become research aware and active.


Kingston Hospital: From a good hospital to a hospital that's good at research 

In 2014 CHKS, a leading provider of healthcare intelligence and quality improvement services, rated Kingston Hospital as a top 40 hospital and top amongst the five most efficient.

However at the same time it was rated the ‘worst performing research trust' out of the twelve in the South London Clinical Research Network (CRN). This was largely due to a lack of infrastructure, and a hospital and staff that were not prepared for research.

Since 2014, Kingston Hospital has implemented reforms and initiatives to overcome many of these barriers.

A midwife engagement initiative

Research midwives in Newcastle identified that, despite their best efforts, out of hours recruitment to studies was not optimal. Therefore, over a period of 12 months, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust ensured that a research midwife was present for the delivery suite handovers at the beginning and end of each day. This initiative increased the confidence of staff, and increased recruitment to studies.

Research for patient benefit

Patients and the public are at the centre of everything we do. The resources below demonstrate just how important public involvement is at all stages of the research journey.

How does research help patients? 

Staff at Nottingham University Hospitals explain why research is so important to patient care.


The impact of research on patients within the Major Trauma Network 

Matt Costa explains how embedding research within the Major Trauma Network has had a significant positive impact on patient outcomes


Embedding research into clinical care

Increasing the integration of research and care is key to the future, and the best way to deliver patient care. That's why the Clinical Research Network (CRN) works hard to make sure research is offered as a choice on all patient care pathways.

Below are some examples of how NHS Trusts across England have successfully managed to integrate research into clinical care. 

Integrating research into clinical care

How does research integrate with clinical work? Staff at Nottingham University Hospitals describe some of the ways they integrate research into clinical care.


Research Champions Initiative in a children's research unit 

In early 2015, the children’s research team at the Great North Children’s Hospital identified that staff working within busy clinical areas often struggled to engage with research.

An initiative was developed to identify research ‘champions’ in each of the clinical areas to help to embed research within the organisation at all levels.

Expanding awareness of recruitment to research

Helen Hanson, Senior Research Nurse at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, explains how an initiative to make clinicians more aware of recruitment to research worked, and how it succeeded.


Pilot internship programme to create Research Envoys

NHS clinical staff have been trained to spread the research message. An exciting pilot internship programme has encouraged ‘Research Envoys’ to get involved in research and promote research at all levels within their clinical areas and organisations as a whole.

Becoming a research active clinician

There are a range of different routes and levels to get involved in research. The videos below provide an insight into the motivations behind getting involved and how being a research active clinician can be helpful for those looking to develop professionally.

Integrating research into routine nursing care

Mark Hammonds, Senior Charge Nurse, Coronary Care Unit at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, explains how and why he got involved in research and how he encouraged colleagues to integrate research within their clinical roles.



Why did you first decide to get involved in research?

Staff at Nottingham University Hospitals describe how they became research active


A shift in the research landscape

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a new surge in interest in research, both within the NHS and in the public. Many frontline research delivery staff in various healthcare settings have worked hard to harness this new level of research engagement in their local organisations.

A full range of research engagement case studies can be found on the Frontline Research Engagement and Collaboration Community on our NIHR Learn platform under the ‘Success Stories’ section.

This online community provides frontline research delivery staff with a ‘hub’ for learning, inspiration and sharing examples of successful practice in embedding research in local NHS organisations. The community can be accessed using NIHR Learn, which  can be accessed by registering using an NHS or NIHR email address.