Cover: Enabling NHS staff to contribute to research

Enabling NHS staff to contribute to research

Reflecting on current practice and informing future opportunities

Published Dec 11, 2018

by Sashka Dimova, Rob Prideaux, Sarah Ball, Amelia Harshfield, Asha Carpenter, Sonja Marjanovic

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Research Questions

  1. Why do NHS staff engage with research?
  2. How do NHS staff engage with research?
  3. What are the challenges to NHS staff involvement in research and how can they be addressed so that contributions are effectively enabled and rewarded?
  4. What is the impact of engaging NHS staff in healthcare research?

RAND Europe was commissioned by The Healthcare Improvement Studies (THIS) Institute to conduct a rapid review of the evidence base on engaging NHS staff in healthcare research. The review aims to help inform THIS Institute's efforts to establish and implement an effective strategy for engaging staff across the NHS with its research activities. The report will also be useful for other organisations and initiatives seeking to engage NHS staff in research.

The report is focused on a diverse NHS workforce that is directly or indirectly involved with care delivery, including individuals in clinical, managerial, administrative and support roles. The terms NHS staff, healthcare professionals and NHS workforce are used interchangeably throughout this report.

Staff across the NHS have important expertise to contribute to healthcare research. However, they also face competing demands on their time, not least delivering patient care. Any efforts to mobilise wide-scale NHS workforce engagement with improvement research need to understand what motivates staff to engage with research; to consider staff constraints; and to establish practical and rewarding mechanisms for harnessing their expertise, commitment to high-quality and safe patient care, and interest in evidence-based practice.

Key Findings

  • NHS staff choose to engage with research for a variety of reasons, including: (i) personal interest in a research or evaluation topic; (ii) cultural expectations in some clinical disciplines that involvement in research is part of the job; (iii) a belief that research and evidence can improve the quality and safety of healthcare and patient outcomes; (iv) a positive prior experience with research; and (v) prospects for career development.
  • NHS staff can contribute to research in a variety of ways (e.g. responding to requests for views or for advice, in advisory board roles or as members of clinical research networks, as co-researchers or members of project steering committees).
  • While there are a range of challenges to effective NHS staff engagement with research (e.g. time-related, skills-related, organisational governance-related), there is an evolving evidence base on enabling mechanisms and rewards that could be pursued. The rewards for engagement that matter most to NHS staff include career progression and professional development opportunities related to learning new skills, recognition in professional communities and reputational awards, and seeing the impact of their research contributions on clinical practice.
  • Key impacts from NHS involvement in research include impact on research studies (e.g. on identifying research priorities, on the quality and relevance of study designs, on influential communications and dissemination); impact on the wider research system (e.g. attracting funding); influence on clinical practice (e.g. promoting the uptake of evidence) and personal impact (e.g. professional development and career progression).


  • Identify the most meaningful types of contribution on a case-by-case basis.
  • Ensure that research roles and responsibilities are clear and well defined.
  • Frame opportunities for involvement in a way that aligns with what motivates NHS staff to engage with health research.
  • Consider how best to use established and trusted professional networks, in combination with online or other types of direct awareness-raising and recruitment.
  • Make engagement opportunities user friendly.
  • Establish and nurture relationships with leadership in healthcare provider organisations
  • Ensure that opportunities to recognise and reward involvement in research are created and communicated to healthcare professionals.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was by commissioned by The Healthcare Improvement Studies (THIS) Institute at the University of Cambridge and conducted by RAND Europe.

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