Clinical trials and medical research 


How do clinical trials work?

In this video, Dr Ben Goldacre explains why clinical trials are important, what they involve and who can take part in one. He also describes common concerns patients might have and gives tips on what questions to ask before taking part in any research.

Your health records

Your data is very important in research. This leaflet explains how your health records can help save lives (PDF, 321kb).

Research and clinical trials are an everyday part of the work done in the NHS.

The people who carry out research are mostly the same doctors and healthcare professionals who treat people. Their aim is to find better ways of looking after patients and keeping people healthy.

There are many different types of research and they cover a range of activities, from working in a scientific laboratory to carefully noting patterns of health and disease and developing new treatments.

Health and social care research looks at many different issues, from illness, disease and disability to the way that health and social care services are provided by the NHS.

Why carry out research?

People being cared for in the NHS benefit from past research and continue to benefit from research that is currently being carried out.

Healthcare professionals know a great deal about health, disease and medicines, but much remains uncertain. Research can find answers to the things that are unknown, filling gaps in knowledge and changing the way that healthcare professionals work. This means treatment, care and patients' quality of life are improved and avoidable early deaths are prevented.

Where is research carried out?

There is a huge range of different types of research into health and disease. Much research is carried out in the NHS, but some takes place in universities and research institutes, in social care services or in the private sector.

How is research funded?

Research that takes place in the NHS may be paid for by one of a variety of different organisations, and often more than one working in partnership. They include:

  • the NHS, through the National Institute for Health Research 
  • the Medical Research Council 
  • the Department of Health and other government departments 
  • medical research charities 
  • pharmaceutical and other healthcare companies

However the research is funded, the people who take part in it are protected in the same way. Read more about how trials are regulated.

If you are asked to be involved in research, you should be told who is funding it. When research is published, the organisations that have funded it should be declared.

How can I get involved?

You can look for research studies yourself, by asking your doctor or a patient organisation, or by looking on the internet (such as on the UK Clinical Trials Gateway). Alternatively, you may be approached to take part in research. Be cautious and don't be afraid to ask questions. Take a look at our guide to taking part in research.

Last reviewed: 14/01/2013

Next review due: 14/01/2015


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