Research brings big benefits to the NHS. Here’s how

Professor Steve Feast, Managing Director of the Eastern AHSN

By Steve Feast, Managing Director, Eastern Academic Health Science Network

I was having a conversation the other day about the progress and advances in health and care that research has brought about. Over my career I’ve been involved in a lot of research. I was an NHS clinician before I became a manager, and over that time I have become increasingly convinced that involvement and engagement in research is one of the best ways to engage with people, help deliver better outcomes and improve the quality of services available.

Our healthy future is research. We live longer, healthier lives than ever before. We know much more about what works and will benefit future generations. Without research, we cannot improve treatments and services for patients, or help the NHS meet the challenges it faces in the future. How would we combat antimicrobial resistance without researching it? What sort of society would we eventually live in if the demands of it outweighed treatment and public service delivery and quality?

Research helps develop new tests for diagnosis, treatments and processes, and at times allows access to treatments that may not be readily available to the public. Research and researchers often bring additional investments into services, treatments and their evaluation, helping add energy, critical mass and academic rigor that then benefits the NHS more widely. From this we can derive that one thing is very clear, we need all the research data we can get, now and in the future, for the benefit of society.


Evidence is key to our understanding of facts, and with those facts, we can derive scientific meaning, and creativity is unlocked to produce some truly amazing things. Research evidence is part of the day to day operation of the NHS and is fundamental to creating an evidenced-based decision-making culture within the NHS. Research develops the evidence base. The use of evidence, including research evidence, leads to more effective commissioning and better services. The transformation of stroke services and improved patient outcomes across London was brought about through application of research in to practice.

Research improves recruitment and retention. People like to work in organisations that are innovative and forward thinking and research can help create a more positive environment. Organisations benefit greatly from an increase in productivity and efficiency leading to better outcomes for patients and society in general through research. We are rightly proud of our world class clinical research communities. Post Brexit they will play a growing role in helping us stay competitive and at the leading edge of knowledge generation.

Patient and public involvement in research projects and studies have two way benefits. Taking part in research can mean people play a more active role in their own health care. This is very empowering, providing a more positive outlook on any health issues. During research studies, patients are monitored more closely than usual and often have access to expert medical care that otherwise would not be available. People who take part in research have better health outcomes no matter what treatment they receive, active or placebo. This is known as the ‘trial effect’.

People take part in research for many reasons. Some people take part for personal benefit while others think about how it will benefit others with a similar condition. Simply being part of research can motivate people as they manage their own care.


I hope you conclude as I do that the benefits of research are many and far reaching. Research is helping us live longer. It must now also help us lead healthier lives in these extra years of life than at present. Scientific data collection is scaling up to move to a different place. The ability to learn from and work to improve health through clinical research and action will become faster and greater and more people should gain from it. In the past, the greatest innovations and achievements have been made because of our intrinsic human desire to explore and discover through search and research. Let’s shout about research and support those that help lead it.

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