Support for all

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Glenys Thornton on ensuring greater research capacity in the NHS, to the benefit of doctors and patients alike

To mark the 70th birthday of the NHS, Labour Peers are this week framing a raft of questions to the government that both celebrate our great NHS history while also looking to the future. For my own part, I have tabled a question about artificial intelligence (AI), genomic medicine, new drugs and innovative treatment.

We are celebrating health care available at the point of need regardless of ability to pay. Every person can tell a story of a life saved, a kindness of nursing care, and exceptional support for their loved ones. I have recently spent an afternoon with the staff of a Clinical Commissioning Group, and they told me how proud they are to work for the NHS – enabling the doctors, nurses and care staff to do their jobs.

The future holds many opportunities and exciting remedies and treatments, preventative cures and huge leaps in technology. And we must ensure the NHS continues to provide all of this with equity and fairness. The challenges ahead lie in dealing with the barriers that could prevent patients having such access to new treatments and trials. Those barriers will largely involve pressure on the workforce and a lack of protected time for those delivering health and care to develop research and translate it into practice.

Research shows that patients in research-active health Trusts have better outcomes than those in other institutions, and they are more likely to benefit from earlier access to new approaches. The report Research for All – published in 2016 by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) – revealed that over 25% of doctors who do research are not formally employed in a research capacity.

That tells me there is a real hunger in the medical profession to innovate and improve. A hunger not currently given the support it needs within the NHS. Plus the RCP report also showed how women doctors in particular need support to undertake research, since they are much less likely to ask.  

To guarantee the future of progress, Ministers must make time available for research, clinical trials and medicine development. This is not just a resourcing issue but a question of culture as well. And even more urgent, given the challenges of protecting such work from the potentially negative – perhaps, damaging – effects of Brexit.

Baroness Glenys Thornton is Shadow Health Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @GlenysThornton

Published 4th July 2018

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