Professor Philip Evans, CRN National Specialty Lead for Primary Care

Review of primary care research in CRN 2017/18


Professor Philip Evans, CRN National Specialty Lead for Primary Care


Date: 18 July 2018

The NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) has published its latest annual research statistics for 2017/18 and the primary care speciality has played an important role in the CRN’s considerable achievement of collectively recruiting more than 725,000 participants into supported healthcare studies.

As a Network we continue to work closely with our general practices who form the bedrock of activity within our Primary Care Specialty Group. While increasingly, we are working with larger practices, including federations and super-practices.

I am pleased to report that primary care recruitment in 2017/18 produced nearly 25,000 more recruits than 2016/17. The primary care speciality managed and supported 523 studies over the year - accounting for over 21% of all CRN recruitment across 2017/18 (154,220 participants). This is quite likely to be an underestimate and I am very grateful to all of the practices who search and mail-out to prospective research participants - who are then seen in other settings such as secondary care and who are effectively ‘hidden’ to these figures. Overall however these make primary care the largest recruiting specialty, as it has been for 4 of the last 5 years.

Commercial research activity over the last year has also been a particular success for primary care. Over the course of the year, 23% of commercial studies had a primary care element (the highest of all specialities), despite the fact that only a small proportion of practices in England take part in commercial research (2%). This again is a tribute to those excellent practices who are undertaking commercial research studies - and increasingly, this is involving larger federations of practices.

We are particularly pleased that 99% of all NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) regions have recruited participants for CRN supported studies. However one of the CRN’s Higher Level Objectives for general practice engagement has shown a drop over the last year, moving from 48% in 2016/17 to 32% in 2017/18. There are a number of explanations for this drop in practice engagement and it must be considered in the light of the fact that recruitment has actually exceeded that of last year, despite the fact that the number of practices involved has reduced.

Over the last year we missed a small number of large multi-practice recruiting studies which were actively recruiting in the previous year and these undoubtedly have made a difference to the overall number of practices recruiting to studies. The fact that a third of all GP practices have been able to recruit into CRN studies is quite an achievement in light of the clinical and service delivery pressures on general practices across the country which have escalated considerably during the last year – including GP vacancies rising to record levels. This may account to some degree for the drop in the number of GP practices recruiting to studies.

Overall however, I am pleased that this year’s annual statistics show that primary care research in England is in a healthy state. The speciality very much looks forward to continuing engagement with all the practices next year to give their patients the opportunity to take part in important primary care health research studies.

You can view the NIHR Clinical Research Network’s Annual Stats for 2017/18 here:  

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.
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    In our latest blog Professor Philip Evans writes about how primary care specialty has played an important role in the NIHR Clinical Research Network’s Annual Stats for 2017/18.
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    Professor Philip Evans, CRN National Specialty Lead for Primary Care


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