Today the NIHR Clinical Research Network Co-ordinating Centre (NIHR CRN CC) has published the results of a ‘mystery shopper’ exercise it conducted last year to investigate how well NHS Trusts provide information about clinical research. You may have seen a piece in last Sunday’s Observer which trailed this work and you may hear about it on your local radio station during today.
The results which can be found here will not surprise you, with most NHS Trusts not providing patients or signposting them appropriately. The sample is small but, based on my own experience and that of colleagues, I think the findings are likely to be indicative of the picture across the country. As a first round, this ‘mystery shopper’ exercise has been an innovative exercise and I was delighted to be involved in a small way at its inception. It sets a benchmark which needs to be regularly tested and I would argue that it would now be interesting to see whether there is any correlation between those Trusts that are high-performing in terms of recruitment to clinical trials and the availability and quality of information.
In some senses the specific results – pity the poor hospital receptionist – are less important than the overall impression being given to patients about whether an NHS organisation is open or closed for doing clinical research. I used to work with a CEO who used to say that you can tell the culture of an organisation just by walking through its front doors and gauging what he used to call ‘the smell of the place.’ In essence I think that’s what we are talking about today.
What next? Well, as you will see, the report says that a resource pack will be developed to help NHS Trusts develop their information on research. Whatever we do it is important that it is supportive and encouraging rather than admonishing. Life for our NHS staff is hard enough as it is and we need to keep it simple. I am rapidly coming to the view as I develop my programme on patient access that we need to embed patient champions in every NHS Trust to promote a more conducive culture – a little like embedded reporters in the army. The NIHR CRN CC Involvement4Access project which I have mentioned several times before begins to take us on that road. We also need to really support and help our hospital and GP surgery staff to understand why research is important and why it is important patients should feel comfortable asking about it. It is people who drive culture.