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Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer

More time for research

by Nick Perkins

One of Brain Tumour Research’s key policy and campaigning asks, outlined in our Find A Cure manifesto, is that the health system must ensure clinicians have enough time to undertake research. Healthcare professionals have an important role to play in ensuring pre-clinical (i.e. laboratory-based research) can successfully be translated to patients’ bedsides.

More and more organisations are beginning to campaign on this topic, just recently the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR - the UK’s largest health research funder) launched a campaign ‘Your Path In Research’ which aims to inspire health care professionals to get more involved in research and help them integrate this into their routine work.

The NIHR’s calls were echoed by Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland.

One reason involving clinicians in research is so important is that evidence shows that research-active trusts have improved outcomes for patients, as well as improved staff morale, recruitment and retention.

Yet, NHS clinicians cite a range of barriers, including time constraints, financial pressures and a lack of expertise within the workforce that prevent them from carrying out clinical research. Anecdotally, we know that neurosurgeons, in particular, are facing increased workloads from not only a rising incidence of primary and secondary brain tumours but also a specialism that sees them operate on a range of disorders.

This problem is especially acute in Scotland, as clinicians are often given less time for research than in England. The employment contracts of Scottish consultants allow them less than half the time for non-routine work than consultants in England, giving them far fewer opportunities than their English counterparts to conduct research.  

Without research, healthcare professionals would not have the arsenal of treatments, techniques and technologies they have today. Many clinicians are keen to be more involved and it is in the interest of health authorities to encourage their staff to engage with research (as the Care Quality Commission assesses how NHS trusts utilise clinical research to support patient care).

The problem that needs to be overcome is service constraints (i.e. essentially, clinicians have too many patients in too little time, so don’t have to time for research). Obviously, a better-resourced health service is the ultimate solution, but Brain Tumour Research would also like to see more intermediate responses, perhaps a target for clinicians’ research time or interlinking researchers with their local surgical unit (as happens at Brain Tumour Research’s Centre of Excellence at Imperial College London, which comprises both laboratory and surgical teams, who can cross-fertilise the other’s knowledge base). However exactly it is achieved, Brain Tumour Research would like NHS Trusts to ensure clinicians have ring-fenced, protected time to carry out clinical research into new and better treatments. 

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