Older people more likely than young to trust health research

Survey reveals public's attitudes to health research post-pandemic

24th May 2021 about a 3 minute read
"If we are to find preventions and cures in the future, for coronavirus or anything else, it’s crucial that people of all ages get involved.” Professor Andrew Ustianowksi

Older people are more likely to think health research has been important in overcoming the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) 

The YouGov survey asked 2,023 respondents a range of questions about coronavirus research.

The vast majority of UK adults thought health research has played a very (71%) or fairly (19%) important role in the coronavirus pandemic. 

Some 29% said they trust health research more now than before the pandemic began, and just over a quarter (27%) said they were now more likely to take part in clinical trials.

But while 80% of those aged over 55 saw health research as very important, only 56% of respondents aged 18-24 felt the same.The figure was 58% for 24-35-year-olds.

The strength of pride felt by respondents in the researchers and NHS staff who delivered coronavirus research ranged from 38% in the youngest age group (18-24 years) to 71% among those aged 55-plus.

Other findings included:

  • 86% agree that the UK has played a leading role in the scientific response to coronavirus, with two-thirds (65%) saying they would be confident in taking part in NHS-funded or public sector research
  • A total of 78% agreed that health research should be offered as part of NHS routine care
  • Just 13% were aware that opportunities to take part in research existed in every UK hospital.

Professor Andrew Ustianowksi, national clinical lead for the NIHR COVID Vaccine Research Programme, commented:

“If the coronavirus has shown us anything it’s that we can all be affected by it, regardless of where we live, what we do, or how old we are. And that the quickest route to discovering vaccines, treatments and tests for any disease is through health research.

“Though it is understandable in some ways that older people feel the value of coronavirus research more keenly – perhaps reflecting their direct experience of treatments and vaccines, and the higher risks of contracting coronavirus they face – if we are to find preventions and cures in the future, for coronavirus or anything else, it’s crucial that people of all ages get involved.”

William van’t Hoff, Chief Executive of the NIHR’s Clinical Research Network added:

“There are so many opportunities for people to find research themselves. Just search online for ‘be part of research’, or ask your GP or local hospital for details about the research taking place in your area, whether coronavirus related or not, and find out how you can get involved.

“Your participation might just lead to the next life-changing breakthrough and even if it doesn’t do that, simply taking part in research can help improve the care at your hospital.”

Attitudes to pharmaceutical research

The survey also suggests that people’s attitudes towards pharmaceutical companies may have begun to change as a result of the pandemic.

While 31% expressed confidence  in taking part in health research funded by pharmaceutical companies, nearly a fifth (18%) said they have more confidence than before as a result of vaccine delivery by companies such as AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

NIHR and the UK’s devolved administrations have launched a Be Part of Research campaign to encourage more people to take part in studies.