Professor Diana Baralle

I have been in my new role as Associate Dean (Research) for 20 days now and it’s been interesting for me to see the inner workings of our fantastic medical school. I take over from Professor John Holloway, who after six years in the role, is a hard act to follow. I want to thank him for his incredible legacy and dedication. Examples of his recent work (and by no means the only achievements), include the mammoth REF submission, the technician review (which is supporting the development of core faculty facilities) and helping drive forward interdisciplinary research across the life sciences. We are fortunate that he is still working for research in his new role as Associate Vice-President (Interdisciplinary Research).

As a clinical academic ADR, I thought I would use this opportunity to highlight the importance of our connection with the hospital and of clinical research. Not just for our Faculty and University, but for all clinical colleagues and most of all for our patients. A strong clinical research environment is critical, we know that patients have better outcomes in research-active healthcare settings. We have good working relationships with our trusts and a successful and active research and development team at University Hospital Southampton, which is well connected with the University. However, we can always do better, and worryingly, we are witnessing a widening gap between academia and the NHS, with staff increasingly lacking time to engage with research, and the number of clinical academics declining. 

The Academy of Medical Sciences have created some recommendations which we are looking at, indeed these are recommendations which we can all take some responsibility for and attempt to incorporate within our own environment. These are:

1. Creating a healthcare system that truly values research. We can contribute to this by communicating the value of research and demonstrating that investing in research can help the NHS meet their objectives of providing value for money in healthcare delivery.

2. Fully integrating research teams across academia and the NHS.

3. Providing dedicated research time for research-active NHS staff. It would be so helpful if research capability were embedded in national workforce planning.

4. Ensuring undergraduate curricula equip healthcare staff with the skills to engage with research.

5. Incorporating flexibility into postgraduate training pathways.

6. Streamlining research through joint research and development offices. 

During the pandemic, the importance of clinical research was more evident than ever showing that embedding clinical research within the NHS is achievable and delivers both for patients as well as for the NHS. A government vision document published this year “Saving and Improving lives: the future of UK clinical research delivery”, supports and resonates with the points above and was welcomed by the NIHR. This is an important priority for me in the new post.

I particularly liked the quote from Sir Munir in the Academy of Medical Sciences report: “Research is a core part of care – it is not a ‘nice to have’, demonstrating and communicating the value of research should be part of a broader effort to build research capacity in the NHS, to ensure a ‘research ready’ and ‘research active’ workforce that can benefit patient outcomes and the UK economy.”

The importance of clinical research by Professor Diana Baralle, Associate Dean (Research)

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