Beth Allen is Head of Research at Pharmacy Research UK and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
Over the bank holiday weekend my Geordie in-laws paid a visit. Having waved them off, there is a word that continues to resound in my ears, you’ve guessed it, “champion”. It got me to thinking, it’s a word I’m hearing more and more; we have Champions in Dementia, Healthy Living Champions and now, increasingly, Research Champions.
In my role, I have been lucky enough to work with people across the pharmacy profession, the wider research community, patients and the public who are passionate about research and its place in our health service. However, when I first started at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the majority of our visible research champions were our leading academic research professionals. Our academic community have made and continue to make a huge contribution to building research capacity, capability and the profession’s evidence base. Without their knowledge, expertise and experience we would not be able to educate and train our future researchers, shape our ideas into research questions or compete for the resources needed to innovate and evaluate. However, the role of the research champion is no longer just the domain of the academic research professional. Organisations are grappling with their research cultures and systems; seeking to understand, innovate and improve within the financial constraints of our health service. Subsequently, the Research Champion is emerging in a variety of forms and locations – clinicians, managers, academics, patients and the public all playing their part.
For example, patients, medical professionals and the public have been getting involved in the “OK to ask” campaign designed to encourage patients and their carers to ask about the opportunities to be involved in clinical research. The James Lind Alliance has also brought patients, carers and professionals together to identify ways in which the diagnosis, treatment and care of people with specific conditions can be improved (using existing evidence alongside clinical and patient knowledge and experiences) to inform future research funding priorities.
Opportunities are also emerging (within care settings or regionally-based) which present more formal roles for pharmacists to champion research. This recent article highlights a Research Champion Programme in secondary care and highlights a role that any healthcare professional could lead on.
Similarly, as community pharmacies are increasingly playing an important role in the delivery of health and social care research, including trials, we have seen the emergence of the local pharmacy research champion, supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network. The NIHR has 15 local Clinical Research Networks (lCRN) which have all been set an objective to appoint a local pharmacist to champion community pharmacy involvement in research and this presents a great opportunity to develop our pharmacy teams to become Research Ready and make a vital contribution to Innovation, Health and Wealth.
The increasing range of opportunities to champion research, whether formally or informally, highlights that research is “everybody’s business” in the NHS and what is common amongst all research champions is the willingness to promote research throughout their networks to improve patient and public access to research and better care – which I think is just champion!