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Clinical Research Explained

Research and clinical trials are an everyday part of the work done in the NHS.

New treatments or tests for all types of diseases and conditions are continually developed by scientists, doctors and other health professionals. Most often the treatment is a drug, but it could be a medical device, a surgical or physical procedure, a therapy or an intervention such as health promotion. Trials are also an important part of the process the NHS goes through in making decisions about prevention, diagnosis or treatment of illness, and ensures NHS resources are used in the most appropriate way.

Before treatments can be tested in humans, they will have already undergone extensive investigation. The researchers conducting the trial must draw up a plan or protocol which will include information such as:

  • Who and how many will take part in the trial
  • What question does the trial aim to answer
  • What treatments will be compared
  • How the results will be collected.

The protocol then undergoes an independent scientific review and must also be approved by an ethics committee before the trial can go ahead.  These checks are to ensure that the trial design is accurate and that the research will respect the rights, dignity, safety and wellbeing of the participants.

The UK Clinical Research Collaboration has produced two helpful publications to answer the common questions people have about clinical trials: