Joint Research Office


Mystery shoppers reveal trusts fail to tell patients about clinical research

21 January 2013

A mystery shopper exercise shows NHS trusts are failing to tell patients about clinical research, according to the NIHR.

In the mystery shopper campaign carried out in 40 NHS trusts, 91% of trusts did not provide information about research to support patient choice.

Over 80 hospital sites were visited and the majority of these failed to provide information on clinical research activity in their reception area, on notice boards, on electronic screens or leaflet displays.

Nearly half - 46% - of the receptionists approached told the mystery shopper that clinical research was either not something their trust got involved in and directed the mystery shopper elsewhere, or had no suggestion at all to make.

The aim was to find out what happened when patients asked for information about: 

  • clinical research happening in their local trust 
  • guidance on where to go and what to do if they wanted to find out about local research opportunities 
  • how they might engage with the research agenda. 

Mystery shoppers examined the basic points-of-contact for patients (reception desks, patient advice services, patient information centres, noticeboards and hospital websites), to assess whether patients had easy access to information about local clinical research opportunities, and how to get involved.

Other results showed that:

  • 91% of hospital sites visited did not have any information on clinical research activity in their reception area, on notice boards, on electronic screens or leaflet displays
  • The remaining 9% had information available on research, supplied by a range of sources: 6% had information from hospital's own researchers; 2% had NIHR; patient leaflets; 1% had information supplied by charities
  • 52% of trusts did have some research presence on their website - although usefulness varied.  Only 34% of our mystery shoppers found that the trust's website information was useful from a patient perspective
  • 22% of receptionists directed patients to PALS, but: of the 40 sites where PALS was open, only 3 had any information; 11 people were referred back to the website (whether or not it contained any information); 5 mystery shoppers did receive a contact, or a positive suggestion to take forward; more than half the mystery shoppers referred to PALS said they did not receive clear guidance about what to do next if they wanted to find out about clinical research.

The NIHR Clinical Research Network is planning to use this report as a driver to open dialogue with NHS Trusts regarding provision of basic information to support patient choice on clinical research and allow patients to initiate conversations with their clinician.

A resource pack is being produced to support trusts.

Read the full Mystery Shopper Report