- Being involved in primary care research allows GPs to diversify their work, generate income and make their practices more attractive to new recruits.
- Local sources of help include clinical research networks, academic departments of primary care (usually at universities), PCNs and federations.
- Anyone involved in research should undertake good clinical practice (GCP) training, which should be updated every two years. • Funding may be available through local clinical research networks, the RCGP’s Scientific Foundation Board, charities, the BMJ and the Health Foundation; commercial research is better rewarded, but the demands on time, organisation and resources are also higher.
- Consider undertaking ‘RCGP Research Ready’, a quality assurance scheme that provides research accreditation and quality assurance for individuals, GP practices and PCNs.
- PCN-level research may have positive spin-offs around DES and QOF requirements.
Dr David Mummery is a GP in west London and academic clinical research fellow at Imperial College London
Being involved in primary care research can allow GPs and practices to diversify their work and develop portfolio careers. It can also generate income and make practices more attractive to new recruits.
Historically, primary care research has been undervalued compared with its secondary care counterpart, which is generally perceived as cutting edge. But researchers are now realising that primary care is where they can do the most interesting work with the greatest impact.
Primary care has 90% of patient contacts and carries out more than a million appointments in the UK every day. Primary care can also access the most diverse and hard-to-reach groups, such as ethnic minorities and deprived communities, who have been under-represented in research studies. It cuts across all the specialties too, from dermatology to mental health, so there is a wide range of research that can be done in an extensive range of fields.
Secondary care is increasingly realising that primary care is where patients for research studies can be found, and is now involving general practice in secondary care-based studies. But primary care has a long way to go to achieve its full research potential.
Here are my suggestions for individual practices embarking on the research journey.
1: Contact your clinical research network team
The Clinical Research Network of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR CRN) is made up of 15 local clinical research networks across England. These co-ordinate and support research taking place across the health and social care environment, including primary care.
The NIHR CRN has a portfolio of studies that have been granted ethical approval and are ready to be implemented in primary care. It also offers financial support for this.
Each regional CRN team has a manager and clinical GP lead, so a good way to start is to find out who they are in your area and enquire about getting involved (the same goes for devolved nations).
If your colleagues are happy, invite the CRN team to your practice to meet everyone. It’s important to make sure your practice team is on board, especially as it can be difficult to sell the idea to hard-pushed colleagues.
You may be part of a primary care network (PCN) or federation that is already involved in research, in which case enquire there. Regions have different arrangements for research delivery, so find out about these, including financial aspects such as how payment is arranged for taking part in studies.
Your local primary care CRN team can send a list of studies from the national portfolio, ranging from simple questionnaires to complex randomised controlled trials (RCTs), which may require infrastructure such as ultra-low temperature freezers. Then you can discuss with the CRN team, or possibly the federation research team, which study is suitable for your practice.
If you are new to research, it is best to start with simpler studies to gain experience and confidence.
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