The care of patients would improve significantly if nurses and other healthcare workers had more training in clinical research, according to a national think-tank on postgraduate education.
The UK Council for Graduate Education this week called on universities to set up targeted part-time masters training programmes, through distance and e-learning where possible, which it said would be a cost-effective way of boosting research.
Gerry McKenna, vice-chancellor of Ulster University and chair of the working group that produced the report on research training in the healthcare professions, said: "High-quality research is an essential element in improving the care and treatment of patients, and therefore research training can no longer be regarded as an 'optional extra' for the healthcare professions."
Nurses and other professionals needed to be trained not only in incorporating the latest research evidence into their work but in carrying out relevant research themselves, Professor McKenna said.
The report urges institutions that develop clinical research degrees to consider making the core elements available to all research students within the healthcare professions. This would give students a common grounding in research methods, it says.
Given that there is not yet a great deal of research or expertise in this area, the report suggests that institutions should get together with clinical centres to develop research training packages, which could include jointly supervised projects.
The report also wants to see better career opportunities for nurses and other healthcare workers.
"It is important that scarce skills are not lost to the health service and that the time and resources invested in training staff are realised in terms of providing a better service for patients," Professor McKenna added.