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Refreshed NIHR School for Primary Care Research to strengthen whole primary care research sector

Published: 24 March 2021

The NIHR has announced the fourth phase of the School for Primary Care Research (SPCR), with a refreshed membership and a new focus on supporting the full spectrum of primary care research and building research capacity.

The new school will be led by Prof Christian Mallen from Keele University, who succeeds Prof Richard Hobbs at the University of Oxford after 15 years of valued service.

NIHR research schools are national collaborations between leading academic centres that fund outstanding research in primary care, public health and social care. The SPCR carries out world-leading research in primary care, providing a focus for primary care research within the NIHR and supporting the development of primary care research.

This new phase of the SPCR has an explicit aim to strengthen the primary care research sector more broadly, covering sectors such as community nursing and pharmacy as well as general practice.

The nine member institutions share their expertise with non-member institutions, with a strong emphasis on engaging, collaborating and partnering with institutions beyond the school membership. 

The fourth phase of the school has a refreshed membership, encompassing new members in Queen Mary University of London and University of Exeter. Some of the members, such as the University of Bristol, have formed partnerships with other institutions to support capacity building across the wider Primary Care workforce.

The new phase of the school, which has been awarded £22 million, will start in April 2021 and run for a five year period. The school has also received funding of £10 million from the NIHR Academy to support capacity building in primary care research. 

New director Professor Christian Mallen, NIHR Research Professor in General Practice and the Head of the School of Medicine at Keele University, said: "I’m absolutely delighted to have been appointed director of the NIHR School of Primary Care Research. The renewed membership provides a real opportunity to build on past success whilst extending our remit to work with a broader group of partners.” 

“Over the past 15 years, the NIHR SPCR has been pivotal in raising the profile of academic primary care. I am particularly grateful to Professor Richard Hobbs, outgoing Director, for working so tirelessly to achieve this.” 

The core research priorities for the refreshed SPCR are organised around some of the challenges facing national and international primary care. They are organised into four broad themes:

  • Changing patterns of morbidity and mortality
  • Challenges around new technologies
  • Workforce and skill mix in primary care
  • Globalisation, health and inequalities

The renewed SPCR will continue to conduct research that responds to and meets the needs of local populations and local health and care systems, and which addresses the nation’s changing demographics and corresponding impact on disease burdens and service demands.

The current school undertakes a wide range of research projects as well as school-wide research programmes that focus on addressing major primary care challenges. For example, all nine school members collaborate on the CANcer Diagnosis Decision rules (CANDID) study, led by Professor Paul Little of the University of Southampton. The study aims to develop ways of predicting who is more at risk of getting lung or bowel cancer, to improve early detection and assist early referral.

Strong involvement and engagement of patients and the public will be central to the school, ensuring its work draws on their lived expertise, incorporates their perspectives and responds to their challenge. SPCR innovations in Patient Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) will continue in phase four. Two rounds have been held for Engagement and Dissemination awards and two rounds of PPIE awards.

School member institutions have strong partnerships within, and outside of, the NIHR. These include NIHR Applied Research Collaborations, NIHR Biomedical Research Centres, NIHR Patient Safety Translational Research Centres and Centres of Excellence funded by charitable organisations. Member departments contribute to all NIHR Academy Fellowship Programmes, with several holding senior investigator and research professor awards. 

The nine SPCR member institutions from April 2021 are:

  • Queen Mary University of London
  • University of Bristol
  • University College London (UCL)
  • University of Exeter
  • Keele University
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Oxford
  • University of Southampton

Read more about the aims and board members of SPCR 2021-2026.

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