A healthy nation: strengthening child health research in the UK

Lancet. 2013 Jan 5;381(9860):73-87. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61818-2. Epub 2012 Nov 20.


Despite a general acknowledgment that research in children is necessary and ethical, the evidence base for child-specific treatments is still sparse. We investigated children's biomedical and health services research in the UK in relation to training, infrastructure and activity, research evidence, and visibility. We show that excellent opportunities for career researchers exist through a competitive, national integrated academic training programme, but that the number of academic paediatricians has decreased by 18% between 2000 and 2011, falling from 11·3% to 5·9% of the consultant workforce. The potential for rapid delivery of studies in children through the National Health Service (NHS) is not being realised: clinical trainees are poorly equipped with core research skills; most newly appointed consultant paediatricians have little or no research experience; less than 5% of contracted consultant time supports research; less than 2·5% of the 2 million children seen in the NHS every year are recruited to studies; and ten of the 20 UK children's hospitals do not have a clinical research facility. Support through National Institute for Health Research networks is good for studies into drugs, but inconsistent for non-drug research; less than 5% of registered studies involve children and only one children's biomedical research centre has been allocated funding from 2012. Of the UK annual public and charitable biomedical research expenditure of roughly £2·2 billion, about 5% is directed at child health research. The scant evidence base is impeding the development of clinical guidance and policy-less than 20% of the outputs of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence are applicable to children. Paediatric representation on major research boards is weak. Parent and young people's advocacy is fragmented, and their views are insufficiently heeded by regulatory bodies. The strong UK Government commitment to biomedical research has not been translated fully to research for children. The power of research in children to turn the tide of the growing burden of non-communicable, chronic, adult diseases that have their origins in early life, to benefit the health of an ageing population and future generations, and to reduce health-care costs is inadequately recognised. On the basis of our findings, we make several recommendations to improve early-years research, including the formation of multidisciplinary, cross-institutional groups of clinical and non-clinical child health researchers and their access to diagnostic and laboratory facilities suitable for children; a unified Children's Research Network for drug studies and non-drug studies; regulatory assessment of research that is proportionate and based on consistent national criteria; an expansion of research posts; support for parents' and young people's advocacy; collaboration between children's research charities; improved research training for paediatric trainees; and closer integration of child health research with core NHS activities.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research*
  • Child
  • Child Welfare*
  • Health Services Research*
  • Humans
  • Research Support as Topic
  • United Kingdom