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National Institute for Health Research (NIHR): Using digital technology to revolutionise recruitment for clinical trials 

Clinical trials typically take around eight years and much of this time is spent just finding the right volunteers. Speeding up the recruitment phase would dramatically cut the time taken to get new drugs and treatments to patients. 

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the research arm of the NHS, knew about our work developing a site for recruiting volunteers for dementia research. They asked if our digital experts could achieve the same success for a much wider range of diseases. The brief was to transform the existing UK Clinical Trials Gateway from a site where people could find out about clinical trials into a sophisticated online service for registering as a potential participant. 

We consulted members of the public, patients and researchers to find out what would work for all these groups. After several iterations, and continuing to consult users, we refined the system to the point where it was ready to go live. We also provided content and links to UKCTG for websites people often use for advice like NHS Choices, The Alzheimer’s Society, and Cancer Research UK. 

NIHR launched the new UK Clinical Trials Gateway in 2016. From the start, people were registering at a rate of 1,000 a month, creating an extensive, valuable and fast-growing pool of candidates for researchers to access. The new system is syndicated across web pages seen by 3.4 million visitors per month. This digital revolution in the way NIHR recruits will cut both the costs and the time it takes to get clinical trials started, bringing potentially life-saving new treatments to patients much faster than before.

Our partners, PA, have helped us transform the UK Clinical Trials Gateway (UKCTG) into a patient-centric mechanism by which people can find out about and take part in health research which may benefit them and their family. PA challenged us with innovative thinking and developed a solution that takes us much further forward than we ever would have expected.    

Simon Denegri, NIHR National Director for Patients and the Public in Research and Chair, INVOLVE

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