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Research and clinical trials are an everyday part of the NHS. Health research covers a range of activities, from work in a scientific laboratory to carefully noting patterns of health and disease and developing new treatments.

Why do research?

Health professionals know a lot about health, disease and medicines but there is much more that is uncertain. Research provides answers to these uncertainties, filling gaps in knowledge and changing the way health professionals work.

What is a clinical trial?

A clinical trial is a particular type of research where patients are split into different groups that receive an experimental intervention (such as a drug or surgical procedure), placebo (inactive substance or procedure) or no intervention. Patients' outcomes are monitored to see whether the experimental intervention is effective at preventing, diagnosing or treating patients' conditions. It may involve patients in poor health and/or good health. Small studies produce less reliable results so studies often have to be carried out on a large number of people before the results are considered reliable.

Why are clinical trials important?

Doctors and other health professionals and patients need evidence from clinical trials to know which treatments work best. Clinical trials are considered to provide the 'gold standard' of clinical evidence. Without this evidence, there is a risk that people could be given treatments that have no advantage, that waste NHS resources and that might even be harmful.

Clinical trials find out if:

  • treatments are safe;
  • treatments have any side effects;
  • new treatments are better than available standard treatments.

Clinical trials can help to:

  • prevent illnesses by testing a vaccine;
  • detect or diagnose illnesses by testing a scan or blood test;
  • treat illnesses by testing a new medicine;
  • provide treatments in the best way for finding out how best to help people with their illness;
  • help people control their illness or improve their quality of life by testing how a particular diet affects a condition.

Trials stick to a set of rules (called a protocol) to ensure that they are as safe as possible for the people taking part, measure the right things in the right way and the results are correct.

If you are considering taking part in research, you may like to visit Healthtalkonline where you can hear about the experiences of people who have already taken part in research.

You can find much more information about Research and Clinical Trials on the NHS Choices website.

The Rosetrees and the RSC Clinical Trials Initiative

The Royal College of Surgeons and partners (including the National Institute of Health Research, Cancer Research UK and the Rosetrees Trust) have established, for the first time, a network of surgical trial units across the UK.

The Surgical Trials Units are allowing surgeons to deliver clinical studies to assess new surgical techniques and develop breakthroughs in treatment that will help to deliver improved care to surgical patients. The surgical trial units are located in Bristol, Oxford, London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester.

More information

UK Clinical Trials Gateway provides information on how to get involved with different clinical trials.

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