Loss of clinical academics risks patient care, warn UK medics

Falling numbers of NHS-based scholars and lack of research time must be reversed, warns Academy of Medical Sciences

January 8, 2020
Hospital, healthcare, ward,
Source: iStock

Research-active NHS doctors are struggling to find time for research amid growing pressure on the UK’s healthcare system, a medical body has claimed.

Warning about potential risks to patient care, the Academy of Medical Sciences has called on leaders in universities, the NHS and the government to do more to ensure that research in the health service is protected.

It advises the government to allocate £25 million a year for a pilot scheme that would allow one in five NHS consultants in 10 hospitals to spend at least one day a week on research.

The call follows the publication of a report by the academy on 8 January that highlights a decline in the number of clinical academics who work in both universities and the NHS. Clinical academics represented just 4.2 per cent of NHS medical consultants in 2017, down from 7.5 per cent in 2004, says the report.

The number of family doctors who are also clinical academics has shrunk as well, to just 0.4 per cent of all general practitioners, it adds.

The increased distance between academia and front-line healthcare may make it harder for significant discoveries to occur in the NHS, which has previously helped to develop antibiotics, MRI scanners and DNA sequencing, the report suggests.

Sir Robert Lechler, the academy’s president, said there was “increasing evidence that shows that patients treated in research-active hospitals get better quality of care”.

“Protecting and strengthening research is a win-win situation for patients, the NHS, universities and our economy,” added Sir Robert, provost and senior vice-president (health) at King’s College London.

Declaring that “research is the tonic the NHS needs right now”, Sir Robert said that including research in medical roles would make it “easier to attract and keep the best doctors” because research could “provide a coping mechanism to avoid burnout”.

The report, which was produced by a group of senior clinical academics after extensive consultation with health staff, calls on universities to increase the number of honorary positions they award to NHS staff as a way of improving links to hospital and health trusts.

“Such appointments must enable healthcare professionals to fully engage in research by providing them with the same career development, mentoring, training and promotion opportunities as academic staff,” the report advises, saying institutions should also offer “access to the grant-making machinery and journal subscriptions hosted by the [institution] and opportunities for student supervision”.

Hospitals and other healthcare organisations should also “actively promote research, by valuing and measuring the health research they carry out”, it adds.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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