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Cash-strapped NHS diverting nurses from clinical trials, report says

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he funding crisis in the NHS has led to cutbacks on vital clinical trials conducted with drug companies on new medicines, according to new research.

Cash-strapped hospitals are diverting nurses away from drug research to make up for a shortfall in doctors and nurses doing clinical work with patients, according to a report in research policy magazine Research Fortnight.

The publication spoke to several NHS sources who confirmed backfilling for frontline staff shortages was impacting on clinical trials, putting drug discovery work for diseases including cancer at risk. A source said the cutbacks could deny patients “potentially life-saving treatment”.

Clinical trials are primarily led by drug companies, but rely on health providers – the largest of which is by far the NHS – to help recruit and monitor patients on courses of novel drugs.

Clinical trials are a vital step toward companies building an evidence base for new drugs and ultimately winning approval from regulators.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), which represents companies working in the UK’s £63bn life sciences sector, said it was concerned by the report.

Dr Sheuli Porkess, an executive director at the ABPI, said: “As a fundamental part of both developing and accessing new types of treatments, reports that resources for clinical trials are under pressure and need more support are of real concern.

“While the UK has a long established and successful record of clinical research, competition to attract commercial clinical trials is increasingly global,” she added. “For that reason, improving the speed and efficiency of UK clinical trial capabilities and making sure they are as effective and efficient as possible needs to be front and centre of NHS and Government policy.”

NHS jobs data shows there was a net reduction of 3,000 nurses in 2016-17, with nearly 33,500 leaving the public health service in total.

An NHS England spokesman said: “Nurses working in research are vital to improving the care and experience of patients and a key priority for the NHS.”