Valuing the Clinical Academic

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This resource was generated by the Academy of Medical Sciences

Clinical academics (CAs) are fully integrated across the NHS and academia, undertaking vital academic research, teaching and training, alongside treating patients on the frontline. They provide a unique perspective on clinical research and make vital contributions to all specialities. Despite their major contributions to both universities and the NHS, the number of clinical academics currently represents just 5% of the medical workforce and is declining (this number is less in dentistry and other professions). It is essential that higher education institutions (HEIs) and NHS trusts encourage the uptake of clinical academics roles across the UK.

Why encourage clinical academic posts?

Clinical academics provide a vital source of funding for HEIs:

  • Clinical research funding is the largest funding income stream for most academic institutions, with on average 28% - over £5billion - of research income leveraged from clinical medicine. CAs offer a unique platform to align fundamental discovery research across many disciplines (including biomedical, engineering, digital and computational) with access to NHS patients for evaluation and implementation of their research. There is an abundance of medical research charities as well as philanthropic donors within the UK who are keen to maximise investment through multidisciplinary research.
  • Alternative models of co-funding CA posts between NHS Trusts and universities as in Sheffield (case study 1) not only benefit medical departments but also other departments within the HEI due to multidisciplinary research. For example, many clinical research projects require expertise and innovation from statisticians, leading to more involvement from Mathematics departments.

Case study 1 – A transparent joint funding model in Sheffield

In Sheffield, a novel funding model benefits both the University and NHS Trust. The University of Sheffield along with the Sheffield Teaching Hospital Trust operate a transparent model whereby the cost of clinical academic salaries is split 50:50, with the University funding five “Programmed Activities” (PAs) a week, and the trust funding the remaining five. Not only has this model increased funding to Sheffield Medical School, it also clearly outlines the expectations around how CAs will split their time between research and clinical work. Any clinical training which needs to be undertaken comes under one of the PAs funded by the NHS – essentially, both the Trust and university ‘pay for what they get’ of the clinical academic’s time. This model has helped to build and maintain further working relationships between university and NHS managers.

Clinical academics contribute to the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

  • Clinical medicine research, in the previous REF, had the highest research impact compared to all other subjects. With REF 2021 soon approaching, the importance of the impact of an institution’s research is increasing.
  • Staff employed as CAs are classed as having significant responsibility for research and are included in REF submissions on the same basis as all academic staff. Even though CAs have an equal joint contract with their research institution and the NHS their roles count as 1.0FTE in the REF.

Clinical academics procure innovative business ventures

  • The life sciences industry is one of the largest sectors in the UK. Developing CAs who work in collaboration with industry will facilitate better care for patients through the adoption of innovative treatments and technologies. The development of these treatments and technologies may not be possible without the academic input, and not only increases the reputation of the connected institution but also provides potential for patenting and other business ventures.
  • Clinical academics based at the University of Plymouth developed a set of measurement outcomes for Multiple Sclerosis (case study 2). Their research has directly influenced clinical research, trials and drug licensing, ultimately improving outcomes for MS patients.
  • A study recently carried out at the University of Leeds showed 7% of their medical graduates were involved in spin out activities. Such as the Creavo Medical Technologies spin out company, which have developed a non-invasive device to rapidly detect heart attacks.

Case study 2 - Multiple Sclerosis: improving outcomes measurement

Research led by Professor Jeremy Hobart, a clinical academic at the University of Plymouth, into developing a set of patient reported outcome measures for Multiple Sclerosis (MS), the ‘MS Scales’, has directly influenced clinical research, trials and drug licencing. The scales have been translated into over 70 languages and used by well over 50,000 study participants. The MS scales are in considerable demand by commercial organisations developing and evaluating new MS treatment; not least as they are recognised in the U.S Food and Drug Administration compendium of Clinical Outcome Measures. More than 200 licenses have been granted for use in commercial trials, generating over £1.5 million in licencing income for the University of Plymouth’s trading company. Combined academic and commercial research grant income from scale development and related data analysis by Professor Hobart and his MS and Health Measurement Group is in excess of £8 million.

“Working as a clinical academic enables me to engage my local clinical community. This patient input has been vital in supporting my development of high quality Patient Reported Outcome Measures. The University has benefitted in many ways – from submission of a REF impact case study, high quality publications and the generation of significant grant and commercial income. I have also chosen to re-invest all of this commercial income to support ongoing research and local clinical services – supporting the future of local research in MS and Health Research and improving services for local patients.” – Professor Jeremy Hobart, clinical academic.

Clinical academic posts can boost university recruitment

  • The research reputation of a university can drive better recruitment of talented researchers which in turn ensures institutions rank highly in league tables. There is also anecdotal evidence that medical schools recruit better candidates when there is an active research programme.
  • Institutions that improve the career structures and increase job security of clinical academics will be able to integrate the roles across sectors better and provide more support, leading to better reputation and therefore recruitment rates.

Clinical academics provide remarkable contributions to society

  • Researching health issues of public concern provides enormous societal benefit. Each aspect of the CA role is to improve both in research and in practice in the NHS; this results in cutting edge clinical work, improving patient care through innovative techniques and inspiring doctors to be involved in research through leadership (see case study 3).

Case study 3 - Professor Fiona Denison

Fiona Denison is a Professor of Translational Obstetrics at the University of Edinburgh and Honorary Consultant Obstetrician in NHS Lothian (Clinical Lead for Maternity Obesity Services). Her interdisciplinary research spans traditional research boundaries: she is currently leading the development of five novel medical devices with engineers, companies and clinicians. Professor Denison is a participant in the Academy of Medical Sciences FLIER programme, which aims to develop leaders of the future who can create collaborations across academia, industry, the NHS and government to drive innovation for societal benefit. She is Vice-Chair of the NICE Medical Technology Advisory Committee, has run multi-centre Health Technology Assessment funded clinical trials and is Chair of the External Steering Group for a Heriot Watt University Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Platform grant for medical device manufacture. Additionally, she is Chief Executive Officer of a start-up company (Birthing Solutions Ltd) developing devices that have emerged as a result of her research.