Q&A with Royal College of General Practitioners

The NIHR Clinical Research Network works with key stakeholders to promote the successful delivery of research studies in the NHS and to help plan new studies that will address the needs of patients and the public.

Dr Imran Rafi

The Network has collaborated with the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) on a number of initiatives to drive and promote research in a primary care setting e.g. Research Ready® and Research Awards for GPs and general practices.

Dr Imran Rafi is Chair of the RCGP Clinical Innovation and Research Centre. In light of the recent achievements in primary care research, we asked him what this success means for patients and the public and how are we going to support general practices going forward.

Why is it important that research is undertaken in primary care?

“There is good evidence to suggest that there is a direct link between research-active organisations and quality of care. Being involved in research forms an important function towards professional development of staff.

“For patients, it's important that research opportunities are accessible in their community, especially at their local general practice; their first point of contact for health care. We need to bring research opportunities for patients and healthcare professionals closer to home where the majority of common illnesses and conditions are treated.”

In 2015/16, 42 per cent of general practices in England are research active and since the Primary Care specialty began, one million patients have now participated in primary care research studies...

What does this mean for general practice?

“It shows that there is a real appetite and enthusiasm for research in primary care and that patients recognise the importance of participation in research. Also we have world class researchers in primary care who I am sure are keen to see practices directly involved which in turn could translate into improving patient care. There are many opportunities for those practices who are not currently involved but would like to be.”

What do you see as a challenge for general practice undertaking research? How can this be overcome?

“One challenge is to instil a research ethos in the practice that involves not only the enthusiast but also as many of the practice staff as possible. Getting started involves understanding the principles around research governance, the importance of informed consent and ensuring patient recruitment and monitoring is complimentary to day to day practice.”

What does this mean for patients and the public?

“Patients who see that their practice and staff are involved in research might infer that they and future patients will benefit in the future from the very best treatments and technologies closer to home. This will encourage involvement and participation.”

How has the Research Ready® model contributed to this?

“The Research Ready® model supports GPs and their practices in carrying out high quality research. This self-accreditation research governance framework helps them to develop a research culture and ethos in their organisation. It gives them confidence and expertise. Over 1,000 practices are now Research Ready® accredited.

“Interested parties like the life sciences industry appreciate the quality standards that Research Ready® practices can offer, Research Ready® is a widely-recognised quality assurance mark, confirming a practice’s diligence in preparation for undertaking research.”

What’s next for the RCGP and the NIHR - how are we going to support this thriving research culture in primary care?

“We’re looking to develop Research Ready® to support ‘hub’ practices; we’re seeing more and more practices use the ‘hub and spoke’ model approach to deliver research. We want to develop more guidance around supporting commercial organisations led research, which is also an area for growth in primary care research.

“The research awards that we ran in collaboration with the Network last year were a great success. The entries from GPs and practices really showed an enthusiasm for research and the drive to get patients and patient groups involved in research. This year we want to take what we learned from the awards, identify what made the winners really stand out and share that enthusiasm with other practices.”