The role of the nurse in supporting cancer clinical trials
Clinical trials are a fundamental component of high-quality care, and have been widely reported to improve care and patient outcomes. For research trials to be successful, patients need to have awareness of trials, be invited to participate, and be supported to make informed decisions about consenting to enrol in clinical trials. Some cancer nurses have been reported to be reluctant to discuss clinical trials with patients, based on their own beliefs about the perceived burden of clinical trials, while others have been reported to facilitate patient access to clinical trials by working closely with their clinical research nurse colleagues. Nursing patients enrolled in cancer clinical trials is a specialised (and often complex) area of practice. There is significant opportunity for nurses to develop their knowledge about clinical trials, for example, through reciprocal learning between clinical and research teams, which might enhance patients' experiences of, and outcomes from, clinical trials.
Clinical research is regarded as an optimal standard of care and is integral to recommendations for a modern, high-quality cancer service in England (Independent Cancer Taskforce, 2015). The standards required to conduct clinical research are regarded as ‘a massive lever for quality improvement’ (Richards et al, 2018: 90). Clinical trials are a major type of clinical research study. Clinical trial participation that was supported by a national research infrastructure has been linked to improved outcomes in 209 000 patients (Richards et al, 2018: 90).
The success of clinical trials is dependent on patient awareness (Fern et al, 2014), which in turn is dependent on health professionals, particularly nurses, raising patients' awareness of clinical trials. Evidence suggests that there is much to be done to improve patients' awareness of clinical trials; the National Cancer Patient Experience Survey for 2017 identified that only 31% of patients said that taking part in cancer research had been discussed with them (Quality Health, 2017). This highlights the need for more engagement in conversations with patients about clinical research.
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