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Delivering imaging research in the NHS

27 December, 2017

Author: Anne-Marie Culpan, SCoR Research Group

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) recognises that new medical imaging technologies and analytical techniques are driving advances in patient care, and that radiology-informed medicine has significant potential to improve population health and wellbeing. NIHR Clinical Research Networks (CRN) have a role in supporting and delivering imaging research in the NHS.

Professor Stephen Smye (NIHR CRN Coordinating Centre/King’s College London) hosted a workshop where, following ‘horizon scanning’ presentations on the future of imaging research, delegates considered the challenges and opportunities for realising the potential of clinical imaging scientific advances.

Workshop delegates were drawn from across the community of stakeholders in imaging services. The remit of the workshop discussions was to consider how the imaging workforce might be developed to help better deliver imaging research and how emerging opportunities provided by ‘big data’ might be exploited in imaging research.

Discussions about ‘workforce’ highlighted that imaging research is multiprofessional and how working together in the NHS environment keeps patients at its focus and facilitates the translation of innovation into clinical practice. Pressure on NHS imaging service delivery was recognised, along with the difficulties clinical staff have in getting protected time for research and/or having it included in job plans.

Exemplars which had helped delegates get research off the ground locally included dedicated research nurses and/or radiographers, regional imaging champions, and virtual imaging networks.

In terms of ‘big data’, delegates considered the increasing use of robotic pattern recognition and other analytical algorithms in medical imaging research. Issues of data protection were discussed,  along with the role of industry in providing technology for secure storage of clinical and research imaging data, as well as the consequences of making it available to other researchers, for analysis or data mining, for example.

The desire for a national repository, and the need for robust informatics governance frameworks, were also considered in the workshop discussions.

A document which summarises all the workshop findings and includes a ‘roadmap’ of how the NIHR is going to support the imaging community to deliver the aspirations of those contributing to the workshop, is available. Fve workstreams - workforce, science, infrastructure, industry and engagement, and public and patient involvement - will be led by members of the NIHR CRN imaging steering group.

The objective of the workforce workstream is to increase the capacity and capability of the NHS and academic imaging research workforce. Led by Professors Vicky Goh (King’s College London) and Beverly Snaith (Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust/University of Bradford), this work will include developing collaborations between NIHR, RCR and SCoR to promote research competence and capability in students/ trainees and qualified staff through, for example, academic clinical fellowships, associate professor appointments, and research champions.

The infrastructure stream of work will look at improving the efficiency of using existing NHS imaging systems for research. This might include making sure the ‘imaging’ component of all NIHR funded research studies is recorded and reviewing service support and research funding models so that imaging costs are properly attributed.

Professors Fiona Gilbert (University of Cambridge) and Stephen Keevil (Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust/King’s College London) will lead the science workstream, covering image repositories, information governance, publication/standardisation of image analysis algorithms, and the possibility of developing ‘imaging trials units’, akin to the clinical/ biomedical trials units that already exist.

The industry work is being led by Dr Richard Graham (Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust). This covers establishing NHS/industry partnerships that could help liaison with the large European research organisations, and support multicentre studies, access to large data sets, and research funding opportunities.

Anthea Mould (NIHR CRNCC) and Professor Beverly Snaith will lead the engagement and public and patient involvement workstream. Using a wide range of opportunities for publicising imaging research (presentations, information packs, workshops, etc) this group will try to increase awareness of the NIHR in the NHS clinical imaging community and increase the involvement of patients and the public in imaging research.

Each workstream will be developing a detailed implementation plan and a follow up workshop is planned for 2018.

Please see the NIHR website for more detail.

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