Each year the NIHR collects and publishes annual performance statistics that demonstrate how the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) supports health and social care research in England. We measure our success and impact in a number of ways. Please note these figures relate to the period between April 2020 and March 2021.
2020/21: A year like no other
It is important to view the NIHR Clinical Research Network’s (NIHR CRN) annual statistics for 2020/21 against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and the worst public health emergency in a hundred years. Despite this, the NIHR CRN has continued to go above and beyond to deliver the majority of its objectives - while playing a world leading role in the fight against COVID-19 through coordinating UK wide clinical research into the disease, resulting in many life saving treatments and vaccines in the space of a year.
The NIHR CRN helped 1,390,483 participants take part in portfolio studies in England in 2020/21 - the largest number ever to take part in NIHR CRN supported clinical research in a single year (up from 732,176 in 2019/20).
Dr William van’t Hoff, Chief Executive of the NIHR Clinical Research Network said: “I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved, despite the challenges of the last year, by working closely alongside the NHS in the fight against COVID-19, while trying to maintain vital clinical research into all other health conditions. Our collective impact is already saving millions of lives around the world.
“I want to thank everyone who has been involved in clinical research in any way - members of the public, health and care professionals, support staff, and our partners across the health research system and the life sciences industry. It’s because of you that we are able to look back on the successes of research over the last year that have helped us tackle the greatest health emergency of our lifetimes.”
The NIHR has been at the forefront of research into COVID-19 - with 101 studies prioritised with Urgent Public Health status and fast tracked for site set-up and delivery by the Clinical Research Network. An astonishing 1,012,485 participants took part in these key studies across the UK, with 905,790 participants recruited in England alone.
In this extraordinary year, we also want to recognise the large and unprecedented number of people who have contributed to other COVID research, as participants and as researchers. These include the large number of people who have contributed to the REACT-2 study, monitoring COVID infections, which has played a really key role in informing SAGE and the Government on the pandemic. Participants in this study are expected to number over 900,000, once confirmed, and NIHR is pleased to have provided support to this and other COVID research not covered by these statistics.
Divya Chadha Manek, the NIHR CRN Director of Business Development and Marketing said:
"What a fantastic achievement - 35,488 participants across England took part in commercial studies sponsored by the life sciences industry in 2020/21. Many of these participants are healthy volunteers who chose to take part in COVID-19 vaccine studies. This demonstrates how public perceptions of commercial research are normalising. Names like AstraZeneca and Pfizer have become household names and the impact of clinical research has shone through. I believe this will have a positive ripple effect across all commercial research in the coming years as people can see how our research delivery efforts have helped the world. Our focus is now to ensure we build and grow our commercial research in the UK, for the benefit of the health and wealth of our nation, and beyond."
Supporting vital life science industry research
Over the year, 35,488 participants across England took part in CRN-supported commercial contract research - studies sponsored by the life sciences industry - the third highest number on record (up from 28,832 in 2019/20).
Strengthening partnerships across the NHS and health and social care providers
The NIHR CRN’s ability to support studies across the whole country is key to successful research delivery. In 2020/21, 100% of NHS trusts across England delivered NIHR CRN portfolio studies by helping their patients take part. This is the third year in succession that every NHS trust was involved in delivering studies on the NIHR CRN portfolio.
Over the year, 50% of GP practices recruited participants to NIHR CRN supported studies in the financial year - a marked increase from 36% in 2019/20. This is in part due to the PRINCIPLE study, delivered by GP practices across the country, which enabled people with COVID-19 in the community to take part in important research investigating potential treatments from their own homes.
Restarting non COVID-19 research
As the pandemic took hold and COVID-19 case numbers soared across the UK in early 2020, it was necessary to pause many non-COVID-19 studies to ensure patient safety and as both research and NHS services responded to the pandemic. Following the first lockdown and as case numbers dropped off - restarting these paused studies became a key priority for the NIHR Clinical Research Network.
As of 31 March 2021, the NIHR CRN had restarted 81% of previously paused commercial contract studies (against a target 80%). At the end of the financial year, 77% of paused non-commercial studies had been restarted (against a target of 80%). Addressing the negative impact that the pandemic has had on other health and social care research continues to be a key priority for NIHR in 2021/22 as part of its Managed Recovery programme.
Participants experience of taking part in research
In 2020/21, a total of 20,892 research participants completed the NIHR CRN’s Participant Research Experience Survey. The vast majority of participants had a positive experience of taking part: 93% said they felt valued by researchers while 94% would consider taking part in research again.