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Ten steps to become a research practice

Dr Philip Evans looks at how to become a successful and profitable research practice, including where to go for funding, support and training

Taking part in research is a very worthwhile activity for a practice. It assists in team work and develops doctors and, most importantly, will benefit patients by answering research questions important to their clinical care.

Since the development of the Primary Care Research Network (PCRN) by the National Institute for Health Research it has become much easier both for academics to get access to patients in primary care and for practices to become involved in research.

PCRN funding covering the costs of research as well as possibly providing protected time for clinicians to recruit patients into studies, both industry or non-commercial. This funding can provide a significant new income stream for practices, particularly if industry studies are undertaken.

All studies funded by the network are kite-marked as being of high quality by the PCRN and will have ethical approval and research governance approval in your PCT.

There are now eight local research networks, which are part of the PCRN, covering all of England and similar systems exist in the devolved nations and there will be one local to you.

The following tips will show you how to get involved.

1. Make contact with your local PCRN local research network: Contact details are available on the PCRN website and all networks have dedicated staff that visit interested practices.

2. Find out which studies are available to you in your area: This varies from PCT to PCT and for each study you will be given a brief outline of what is expected from you and your team and an indication of the service support costs (research delivery money) that you will receive for undertaking that study in recognition of the extra time and effort needed to recruit patients. These are usually calculated on a per patient basis and should cover all your extra costs.

3. Highlight to the PCRN those research areas that interest you: For example, if you are a GP with a special interest in diabetes may be able to involve their practice in the Diabetes Network and a study of a new drug or a non-drug intervention for your patients with type 2 diabetes.

4. Express an interest in a number of studies: You will then be contacted by either the network staff or the research team themselves and led through the recruitment procedure. This could be as simple as writing letters to eligible patients or may involve approaching eligible patients during a consultation.

5. Check if you need training: Training is often not compulsory, but you should check with your local network. An example of this is the Good Clinical Practice course (GCP) either taken on-line or at a whole day event. Clinicians entering patients into studies should have completed GCP training and this is mandatory for all staff in industry studies.

6. Gain accreditation: This is important if your practice is seriously thinking about research. The RCGP Research Ready scheme is promoted by the PCRN and encourages practices to consider all aspects of research governance in their practice. It is a self-accreditation exercise based on five core competencies, is internet-based and is free to practices. Support will be provided by your local PCRN. Your accreditation can then be advertised and promoted to patients and managers.

7. Consider applying for infrastructure funding to your local PCRN: Most PCRNs operate a practice infrastructure support scheme (funded by their local CLRN) to aid research and recruitment. These are tiered and depend on each practice’s level of engagement and are in addition to the per patient payments. For example, our network has three tiers: £1.5k per annum for on to three studies a year; £4k for four or more and sessional funding for practices above this level. This sessional funding allows you to fund a partner for half a day a week, for example, in order to undertake recruitment. A similar national scheme is soon to be rolled out (Research Sites Initiative).

8. Consider industry studies: If your practice is keen to support industry studies then opportunities are now available through the PCRN. Strict governance procedures are needed but small number of practices, often in consortia, are successful in running industry studies.

9. Track your research income: Establish systems within your practice to enable you to record research income and expenditure, such as a dedicated bank account. Keep records in house of the studies you undertake and check that the per patient costs are fully reimbursed to you and that you are not out of pocket.

10. Do some research yourself: If you enjoy helping others do research why not think about doing some research yourself and talk to your local department of primary care about training opportunities and higher degrees.

Dr Philip Evans is a GP in Exeter and director of the Primary Care Research Network (South West)

Dr Philip Evans