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Why Funding Local Research is So Important

Evidence shows that conducting research locally leads to improvements for local patients, helping to spread the benefits of research more quickly and more widely.

Research has delivered huge improvements to cancer treatment and care over the last few decades – more patients than ever survive for 10 years or more following their diagnosis and newer treatments have helped to reduce side effects and thus improve patient quality of life. There remains plenty of work still to be done though, particularly for certain cancer types for which improving outcomes has proved stubbornly difficult, such as brain tumours.

Conventional wisdom might suggest that concentrating research efforts into one or two large centres, bringing experts together under one roof, would help to accelerate gains for patients. However, evidence shows that conducting research locally leads to improvements for local patients, helping to spread the benefits of research more quickly and more widely.

Research activity in a clinical setting can take several forms, with recruiting patients for clinical trials perhaps the most common and visible of these, along with collection of tissue and fluid samples from patients for use in laboratories. Studies have shown that the more research activity a hospital or health board conducts, the better the outcomes for all patients, not just those actively taking part in the research. For cancer, even a modest improvement could save hundreds of lives each year across Wales, so supporting research activity to deliver patient benefits has the potential to be hugely impactful.

There are several reasons why increasing research activity has such an impact on the outcomes of the wider patient population, including those not involved directly.

The primary beneficiaries of research are the actual participants themselves. For example, clinical trials offer access to new treatments or methods that aim improve upon current treatment practices. In this way, patients may get better treatment than they would normally receive or, in the case of patients for whom other therapy options have been exhausted, a new hope of successful treatment. Access to such innovations would not be possible outside of a clinical trial, so ensuring local hospitals are willing and able to recruit patients to clinical trials is vital to sharing the potential benefits with local people.

For clinicians, involvement with research leads to the learning and development of new ideas and innovations. By taking part in research studies and research-focused events (such as international conferences), clinicians are able to learn about the cutting-edge work taking place and how it can shape their own clinical practice. The more staff at a hospital get involved with research, the more learning and personal development they can bring to their departments and share with their colleagues, helping to enhance and modernise clinical practice.

A potential barrier to research at a local level is pressures on staff time. NHS services face massive strains and the backlog of patients on waiting lists has not recovered from the exacerbating affect of the Covid-19 pandemic. Under these conditions, finding the time to get involved in research activities can be very difficult for healthcare staff.

However, with the right support and funding to build a team, there is still the chance to create a thriving research environment. An excellent example of this took place recently at Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth, one of the smallest hospitals in Wales. Thanks to financial and organisational support that allowed members of staff protected time away from their clinical duties, research activity could be significantly increased – in fact, the number of patients recruited to clinical trials from Bronglais Hospital went up by over 10 times within a year.

Research and clinical trials often appear to be an afterthought within the NHS in Wales but, as the work at Bronglais Hospital shows, huge strides can be made with the right support. If more people are to enjoy the benefits of cancer research, ensuring NHS staff feel supported to conduct research will be vital.

Research is often driven by collaboration between health services and academics, whose differing skillsets and inputs are mutually beneficial. Universities and other academic institutions can conduct the fundamental studies that lead to clinical trials and new ways of working. However, in the financial year 2021/2022, universities in Scotland received 3.6 times more research grant funding than those in Wales. As is all too often the case, Wales is missing out.

There is a clear opportunity to achieve significant improvements for cancer patients in Wales by increasing research activities across the country, ensuring the latest innovations and practices are available as widely and as soon as possible. 

Cancer Research Wales exists to support and promote the best research right here in Wales, to make sure Welsh cancer patients don't miss out. You can help us on our mission by donating, fundraising or supporting us in whatever way you can.