Government accepts NHS reform changes, including commitments to research and clinical networks

In collaboration with Adfero

The government has accepted the main recommendations made by the independent NHS Future Forum, a group of health experts and patient representatives who were asked to oversee the recent NHS listening exercise.

Cancer Research UK's CEO, Harpal Kumar, said the charity was 'delighted' with the proposals concerning research in the NHS.

The Forum published its recommendations yesterday (June 13th). Its chair Professor Steve Field, former chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said that the principles underlying the health bill were "well supported", but that the listening exercise had uncovered "deep-seated concerns".

He revealed: "If the substantial changes we propose are accepted by the government, then I think the resulting framework will place the NHS in a strong position to meet this objective and tackle the pressing challenges in the years ahead."

Today, Mr Cameron confirmed that the government had accepted the Forum's key changes.

Speaking at a London hospital, he said: "The fundamentals of our plans - more control for patients, more power to doctors and nurses, and less bureaucracy in the NHS - are as strong today as they have ever been. But the detail of how we are going to make this all work has really changed as a direct result of this consultation.

"We have listened, we have learned, and we are improving our plans for the NHS. Ten weeks ago we paused our legislation. Today we show how we are improving it. We are taking people with us and it is in this spirit of unity that we are going to carry on listening and working together for the good of the NHS."

One of the key recommendations outlined in the NHS Future Forum's report is that there should be a "strong role for clinical and professional networks".

The report states: "Collaboration is essential for effective clinical networks and the delivery of high quality education, training and research. In short, collaboration is essential for the delivery of high quality health and care in the future NHS."

The Forum also emphasised the importance of evidence-based commissioning and called for improved collection and use of data about patient outcomes, along with the involvement of nurses, specialist doctors and other clinicians - not just GPs - in local commissioning decisions.

"Support for research and innovation is also important for evidence-based commissioning and practice, so the report recommends that commissioning consortia should have a duty to promote research and innovation and the use of research evidence in the NHS," their report said.

In its response to the report, the government said: "We will retain and strengthen the clinical experts of networks, including patient and carer representatives, that exist in areas like cancer care, so that they cover many more areas of specialist care. We will give networks a stronger role in commissioning, in support of the NHS Commissioning Board and local clinical commissioning groups."

The health secretary will be given a new duty to promote research, and clinical commissioning groups will be required to promote research, innovation and the use of research evidence.

The government said: "We will ensure that a culture of research and innovation is embedded in the arrangements for both the (NHS Commissioning) Board and Public Health England."

It also noted that the cost of treating patients involved in government and charity-funded research will be funded by the NHS.

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "We welcome the government's response to the Future Forum report and in particular, are delighted at the proposed changes on research.

"Establishing research as part of the core culture of the NHS is critical if we're to improve cancer survival. Patients who are treated in places where clinical research is integral to patient care can access new treatments more quickly, and are more likely to survive their cancer.

"So we're delighted that the changes announced commit all parts of the NHS to promoting and supporting research - from the secretary of state to clinical commissioning groups. We are also extremely pleased that the government has committed to ensuring the treatment costs of research are paid by the NHS. This will help avoid unnecessary bureaucracy and delays."

Mr Kumar said that the changes to the health bill give the UK an excellent opportunity to build on its "enviable" record on research, with at least one in six cancer patients already involved in clinical research.

He continued: "We also welcome the commitment to clinical networks and clinical senates. Involving a range of experts in cancer commissioning and ensuring different parts of the service are joined up is crucial to delivering high quality treatment for a complex set of conditions like cancer."

Mr Kumar also said that the government now needs to give further thought to how different parts of the health service will be held accountable for improvements in cancer outcomes.

He observed: "The government has committed to saving an additional 5,000 lives per year by 2015 by diagnosing cancers early and ensuring optimal treatment. Achieving this goal will require work by the public health service and the NHS and we need a very clear sense of who is accountable for delivery and how these arrangements will work in practice."