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Investing in surgical research – the way forward for leading healthcare organisations

12 February 2013

A new plan to set up a nationwide network of surgical clinical trial centres is being launched today with the aim of revolutionising the delivery of surgical care for thousands of patients.

The Royal College of Surgeons and its partners, which include the National Institute of Health Research, Rosetrees Trust and Cancer Research UK, have established a network of units across the UK where surgical research can be pioneered and effectively developed.

The units will enable surgeons to learn more about how to deal with a range of conditions, assess new surgical techniques and discover surgical breakthroughs. Currently, less than two per cent of government funding for medical research goes into surgical areas, despite the fact that one third of hospital admissions involve surgery.

Medical charities are concerned that the development of clinical research in surgery has lagged behind that of non-surgical disciplines. This is now seen as a priority for the NHS, and the initiative will look to recruit a minimum of 2000 patients to take part in the new trials within the first four years of the scheme, with progress being reviewed annually.

The units being set up are in Manchester, Bristol, Oxford, London, Liverpool and Birmingham. They will seek to cover all areas of surgery over the next five years, with the aim of ensuring that new surgical innovations are introduced quickly, help to reduce regional variation in care and drive up standards.

The programme is being overseen by an independent body, the Clinical Research Initiative Steering Committee (CRISC), chaired by Sir Michael Rawlins, Chairman of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

Professor Norman Williams, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said:

“Surgery is drastically under-represented in health service research – something which we are determined to change. We are joining forces with our partners to ensure that a nationwide network of surgical trial centres, which focus exclusively on clinical trials, will raise surgical standards and transform the quality of patient care across the breadth of surgery.”

Richard Ross, Chairman of Rosetrees Trust, said:

“Rosetrees is delighted to partner with the Royal College of Surgeons to establish a nationwide research network to develop and expand clinical trials in surgery in the UK. We are committed to supporting projects that will improve treatments for patients. We passionately believe in helping facilitate the collaboration between research and surgical communities to address the shortage of surgical clinical trials and create the highest nationwide standards of surgical treatment.”

Kate Law, director of clinical and population research at Cancer Research UK, said:

“This exciting announcement recognises the important role surgery plays in treating a wide range of diseases and injuries. There’s often a focus on drugs and the hunt for cures in cancer. But surgery plays a huge role in treating many cancers and it’s only through research and clinical trials that we can build on existing foundations.”

Professor Dion Morton, Director of Clinical Research at the Royal College of Surgeons, said:

“Almost everyone in the UK is impacted by surgery, and 85 per cent of the population will undergo an operation at some point in their lives. Raising standards, implementing new surgical treatment and delivering it safely nationwide is crucial to maintaining high quality patient care.”

A number of factors have contributed to the lack of investment in surgical trials, including taking into account the complexity of operations and assigning patients to different treatment groups. There are also specific challenges for both surgeons and patients around ensuring full consent to the procedure and participation in a trial.

Another barrier is that hospital doctors are under pressure to maximise the time they spend delivering treatment through operations and clinics.  The additional hospital visits and processes involved in surgical clinical trials can be perceived, wrongly, as slowing up the treatment of NHS patients which can potentially be treated.  This programme will provide the necessary infrastructure to help surgeons and patients overcome these hurdles.

In partnership with specialist surgical associations, and affiliated charities, 11 national surgical specialty leads have been appointed with the specific remit to develop new trials, establish clinical networks and to work with their patients to develop and deliver new and innovative trials across the surgical disciplines.

For more information, please contact the RCS press office on:

  • 020 7869 6047/ 6052
  • Out-of hours: 07966 486 832
  • The Royal College of Surgeons of England is committed to enabling surgeons to achieve and maintain the highest standards of surgical practice and patient care. Registered charity number: 212808
  • Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research The charity’s ground breaking work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives. This work is funded entirely by the public. Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates in the UK double in the last forty years. Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses. Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.
  • Rosetrees Trust is a substantial family foundation established in 1987 that funds life changing medical research. They are also the lead funder of this project. Rosetrees has donated millions of pounds of family money to leading researchers in all the main areas of medical research, including brain and neurological disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disease, imaging, lung damage, nano-technology, regenerative medicine, rheumatology and stroke, to create Rosetrees’ unique model. Rosetrees vision is to fund researchers whether established, or young and promising with the potential to become future leaders in their field, to achieve extraordinary improvements in human health. Since Rosetrees establishment over 25 years ago, nearly £100 million has been invested in world class research, either from Rosetrees or the major grants that followed from Rosetrees’ initial support, towards its target of £1 billion for major medical research, encouraged by Rosetrees’ entrepreneurial philanthropy. Registered charity number: 298582