Nation of guinea pigs: Number of patients volunteering for medical trials TREBLES in five years as more people take a chance on untested drugs
Matt Chorley, Mailonline Political Editor
- Almost 600,000 people took part in trials and tests last year, up from 208,000 in 2007-08
- Doctors say patients are taking more interest in their treatment
- Breakthroughs include a meningitis vaccine and treating stroke and cancer patients differently
Hundreds of thousands of patients are signing up to clinical trials in the hope of a medical breakthrough from untested drugs.
The number of people taking part in trials and studies has trebled in the last five years to almost 600,000.
Clinicians said the rise was the result of patients taking a growing interest in medical developments, with almost all NHS trusts now carrying out research.
The number of people taking part in clinical trials and tests has risen from 208,200 in 2007-08 to 595,540 in 2011-12, according to figures released in parliament
Volunteers are approached by research nurses to see if they would like to take part in a study, but patients do not get paid.
Significant breakthroughs attributed to tests on volunteers including a vaccine protecting children against meningitis, treating rectal cancer and ditching medical stockings because they fail to prevent blood clots.
In 2007-08, a total of 208,200 people took part in clinical trials and other well-designed studies in England.
By 2011-12 this figure had soared to 595,540, according to the National Institute for Health Research’s Clinical Research Network (CRN). Almost every NHS Trust - 99 per cent – now takes part in research through the CRN.
Dr Jonathan Sheffield, chief executive of the CRN, said a number of factors had contributed to the sharp rise.
He said: ‘We have been working very hard to put resources on the ground to ensure that patients have access to these research opportunities. We have research nurses based across the country, and 99 per cent of NHS Trusts in England are now doing some research.'
Medical trials lead to changes in the way children are immunised against against pneumococcal meningitis
Dr Sheffield added: ‘The other factor is that patients themselves are taking an active interest in clinical research as a way of extending their treatment options - and putting something back into the NHS.’
Earlier this year a consumer poll showed that 82 per cent of those questioned said it is important for the NHS to offer opportunities to take part in healthcare research.
Only seven per cent said they would never take part in a research study.
‘It shows that patients want the NHS to keep research at the heart of its work,’ Dr Sheffield added.
While there has been a sharp rise in all trials and studies, the number of people taking part in more advanced trials – known as phases I-IV – has levelled off. In 2007-08 some 26,000 people took part in these trials, rising to around 49,000 since 2009, according to figures released in a parliamentary answer by health minister Dr Dan Poulter.
An advance in immunisation against meningitis is one of the breakthroughs secured by CRN research.
Studies proved a new vaccine provided better protection for children against pneumococcal disease and the vaccination programme in England was overhauled.
Research also showed that compression stockings given to stroke patients to prevent blood clot did not work.
The stockings, which are also uncomfortable and unpopular with patients, have been ditched as routine treatment was changed in many hospitals.
It was discovered that compression stockings failed to prevent blood clots in stroke patients, pictured here being treated in the stroke ward at Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon
There have also been developments in cancer treatment. A study showed radiotherapy before rectal cancer surgery lowered the chances of cancer returning, giving surgeons vital information to improve patient treatment.
The Department of Health said the thousands of volunteers coming forward to take part in trials were ensuring the most up-to-date medicines were available.
‘We want to provide the most up to date, innovative treatment and medicines for our patients and clinical trials play an important part in this,’ a spokesman said.
‘There are several reasons why the number of NHS patients taking part in clinical trials is increasing.
‘As well as a greater interest and awareness in them generally, there are more opportunities to take part.’