This project, led by the University of Oxford, will enable researchers to work with the NHS and industry partners to accelerate clinical trial recruitment, increase the opportunities for NHS patients to participate in research, and provide answers to important research questions more rapidly.

This project is funded by the UK Research and Innovation’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).



The challenge

Large-scale, randomised clinical trials allow us to establish whether or not a particular treatment works and whether it is safe. This knowledge is invaluable. Without it, hospitals might be reluctant to adopt some new, life-saving innovation, or a new, more effective medicine might remain unproven and unused. However, clinical trials can be very expensive to conduct and many fail to recruit sufficient numbers of patients to allow them to provide a conclusive answer in a timely fashion.

The solution

Every NHS hospital keeps a detailed record of activities both for the purposes of individual patient care and to ensure that the hospital is properly paid for the work that it does. A monthly report of activity, described in terms of ‘hospital episodes’ is sent to NHS Digital.

This project will develop a system that uses the ‘hospital episodes’ information to identify potentially suitable patients from across the country who could be asked if they wish to take part in clinical trials. Previous studies have demonstrated that such an approach can be very successful in recruiting large numbers of patient volunteers to join major clinical research studies.

Impact and outcomes

The UK has some of the richest health data, yet it is fragmented, and its potential to improve lives is often untapped. The project partners will develop and evaluate a clinical trial recruitment system using NHS datasets, and facilitate the re-use of NHS datasets for a range of health research purposes. Maximising the potential of NHS records will enable researchers to recruit clinical trial participants more efficiently, thereby speeding up the rate at which we provide answers to a variety of healthcare questions. It will also help to demonstrate the benefits of digital innovation in healthcare to members of the public and patients, and provide more opportunities for patients to participate in clinical research.


Academic/NHS partners: NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, University of Oxford Big Data Institute, NHS Digital

Industry partners: North West Ehealth Ltd, Aire Logic Ltd


Professor Martin Landray, Research Director, HDR UK Oxford, and Professor of Medicine & Epidemiology, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford

PA: Penny Rodgers, +44 (0)1865 743848,