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Research for all? An analysis of clinical participation in research

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This report summarises the findings of a survey carried out in early 2020 examining the research activity of RCP members. It makes recommendations for NHS trusts, NIHR, NHS England and other research organisations on how they can improve access to research for physicians, particularly for underrepresented groups such as women, rural physicians and those from BAME backgrounds.

The results of this survey also informed the development of the RCP’s strategy to develop, deliver and drive research in the NHS.

Key findings

  • Physicians have a very positive attitude towards research, with 57% wanting to be more involved and 80% saying they participated in research because it improves patient care.
  • Relatively little progress has been made to overcome the barriers to more participation. A lack of time is the biggest obstacle to more research participation, cited by over half (53%) of respondents, with funding, a perceived lack of skills and supportive culture in their organisation reported as other key challenges.
  • There appeared to be unequal access to research opportunities. Women and physicians in rural hospitals participate in research in disproportionately lower numbers. This is not for lack of interest: over a third (35%) of women not participating would like to become involved in research and 40% of those in rural hospitals not research-active would like to be, 12% higher than reported respondents in city hospitals.


  • Further work to investigate these inequalities and to understand the barriers is urgently needed. NHS trusts should then take clear steps to tackle this unequal access.
  • A stronger commitment at board level to supporting research and development (R&D) departments would help, as would more time in job plans and better publicised research-focused mentoring schemes. R&D departments that are more visible could help address the daunting nature of research and support clinicians by explaining the simple ways to become involved – from recruiting patients to quality improvement.
  • Targeted funding is crucial to encouraging and supporting more research activity in rural areas, which are often the areas with highest disease burden but lowest research activity. NHS England should incentivise research engagement in rural trusts with research-dependent funding, while the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) should specifically target rural areas for support to deliver research.