EAST Lancashire’s hospitals are not just treating patients – they are also leading the way in conducting vital medical research.

Last year East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust beat its target for clinical research by almost 200 per cent.

During 2010/11 there were 2,905 patients involved in research – nearly three times the target of 1,000.

There are currently more than 200 studies in progress.

Last year the trust was selected as the pilot site for the national INFANT study, testing the effectiveness of a new computerised system for monitoring babies’ health during complex births.

Midwives are now researching whether mothers feel less pain during childbirth if they use self-hypnosis techniques.

And Professor Peter Ormerod, research director for the trust and a tuberculosis expert, had his recommendations for the early identification and treatment of the disease added to national guidance.

He said: “Conducting research within the trust helps our staff develop their skills and ensures conditions which particularly affect the population of East Lancashire get the attention of the national research community.

“We now employ a number of dedicated research co-ordinating staff, and dozens of clinical staff across the trust have expanded their roles to include research.

“We find that patients are really keen to get involved and make a contribution to improving clinical care and practice.

“In many cases, their involvement makes almost no difference to their treatment, as only a tiny proportion of clinical trials involve administering new drugs.

“But some of the studies do offer patients the opportunity to access new treatments at an early stage.”

Clinical research in East Lancashire has grown rapidly since 2007, when changes were made to the way funding was distributed.

The NHS National Institute for Health Research established 25 networks across England, including the Cumbria and Lancashire Comprehensive Local Research Network.

It brought together NHS organisations to conduct co-ordinated trials and broadened research activity to include a cross-section of the population Professor Ormerod said: “Before 2007, we were recruiting fewer than 200 patients per year into research projects.

“The introduction of the network system has allowed us to really fulfil our potential.”