Providers need to work together to speed up the approval process for clinical trials if the NHS is to realise its potential as a research resource, a senior pharmaceutical industry figure has said

The comments follow the publication last year of the government’s strategy for growth, and NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson’s innovation review.

Increasing clinical research in the NHS was a key tenet of both. However, between 2000 and 2010 the UK’s global share of clinical trials fell from 6 to 1.4 per cent.

St George’s Healthcare Trust chief executive Miles Scott told last week’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence annual conference that some organisations were keen to take part in research but found it difficult because pharmaceuticals companies usually went to trusts which hosted major research centres with which they had worked previously.

“There is a tendency for companies to focus very much on relationships they know well and trust,” he said.

But Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry chief executive Stephen Whitehead told the event that companies went to the same places because they provided the fastest approval for trials.

He called for providers to work more closely in clusters in which only one decision was required to pursue a trial. He said academic health science centres were “very helpful” in improving access.

Mr Whitehead said companies were keen to work in the UK despite it being more costly than some other countries.

He said the health service “is a competitive advantage that [the UK] should be utilising”.