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A record high: Participation in NIHR Clinical Research Network studies doubles in pandemic year

The latest NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) annual statistics show the extraordinary impact the organisation made in delivering vital clinical research during the 2020/21 pandemic.

An unprecedented number of participants took part in NIHR CRN-supported studies in the twelve months between April 2020 and March 2021 - with participation levels nearly double the previous year. Over this period, a total of 1,390,483 participants enrolled in CRN portfolio studies in England in 2020/21 - up from 732,176 in 2019/20.

Leading the world with COVID-19 research

Throughout the year, the Network played a leading role in the fight against COVID-19 by coordinating UK wide clinical research into the disease - resulting in life saving treatments and vaccines in record time. The extensive experience, infrastructure and Networks already in place across the country enabled the NIHR to quickly pivot its core business to focus on leading the global fight against COVID.

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.

Key to the success of these Urgent Public Health studies was the unprecedented speed at which they were set up for delivery. In 2020/21, the NIHR CRN was able to set up the first site for these studies in an average of 3 working days (against a target of 9 working days).

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.

Participants experience of taking part in research

Clinical research could not take place without the hundreds of thousands of people who give their time and effort to take part each year. Ensuring that these volunteers have a good experience of taking part and feel valued for their contribution is of paramount importance.

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.

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.”

Restarting non-COVID-19 research

Throughout the year, research teams kept as much non-COVID research ongoing as possible, particularly research that offered the potential for life extending or improving care. However, it was necessary to pause and restart many existing studies into other health conditions, as both research and NHS services responded to the pandemic.

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.

About the NIHR Clinical Research Network annual statistics

The NIHR Clinical Research Network’s annual research statistics provide the most comprehensive data around the state of clinical research across the country. These data are from studies on the NIHR CRN portfolio - which cover the bulk of clinical research studies delivered in England.