Lisa Bayliss Pratt and Susan Hamer call for a development strategy for the clinical research nurse workforce, which they deem essential to ensure we have the skills we need to support this key area of growth
As we celebrate International Clinical Trials Day next week (20 May), it is a useful time to reflect on how far nurses’ skills have come in supporting clinical research. The UK faces major, well-recognised demands on the delivery of health and social care services. Clinical research is increasingly important as it is how we test, improve and advance new drugs, devices and methods of treatment that can save and improve lives.
The Health and Social Care Act 2012 places a statutory duty to promote research, and the powers to support it, on the health secretary and all sectors of the NHS, including NHS England and clinical commissioning groups. This has led to a significant increase in the need for research competence, not just for the services we deliver but the sciences we develop to support them. This has engendered a demand for skilled professionals to develop the science and carry out the care associated with engaging patients in clinical research.
The need for specialist research skills has been recognised by many, including the National Institute for Health Research, and has been the subject of several key policy initiatives but remains an area of concern as demand outweighs availability. There is certainly a need for the UK life-sciences sector, together with industry partners and the health sector, to work much more closely together. In a 2011 strategy for the sector, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills emphasised “the role of the life-sciences sector is important to both generating the solutions and contributing to the economic health of the country”. The nurse workforce has a wide range of possible responses to this imperative.
Making it easy for high-quality clinical research to be a well-integrated part of our health system is a goal nurses would wish to actively develop. Currently there are over 10,000 clinical research nurses who have made an active career choice to specialise in this exciting field of practice. But still there is more to do. The UK has an internationally recognised high concentration of research excellence and innovative clinicians - but excellence alone is not enough. The nursing workforce needs to create value throughout the research and innovation development pathway. We need to provide exciting career opportunities and incentives for people at all levels to develop scientific excellence and work with insight with partners from other sectors to accelerate knowledge development, transfer and use.
Nursing throughout its development has adapted and changed; specialist roles have emerged and developed. It can be all too easy to overlook some of the more subtle shifts in expectations and fail to see them for their potential and scale. A recognition of its value, clear focus and a development strategy for the clinical research nurse workforce is essential to ensure we have the skills we need to support this vital area of growth.
Lisa Bayliss Pratt is director of nursing, Health Education England and Susan Hamer is organisational and workforce development director, National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network.