The number of patients taking part in research delivered through the National Institute for Clinical Research (NIHR) Primary Care Research Network (PCRN) in England more than doubled in 2011/12 compared with the previous financial year.

A total of 63,148 patients were enrolled in PCRN-led research projects during 2010/11, a figure that rose to 128,713 in the latest financial year.

According to Paul Wallace, director of the Network, the increase reflects the relatively high proportion of primary care sites hosting research – nearly 7,000 sites to date, including some 5,500 general practices, or around 65% of all such practices in England.

“This means that more and more patients are being given the opportunity to take part in research that is of specific relevance to primary care, and since around 90% of NHS patient contacts take place in primary care, it’s critically important to have a strong evidence base to inform practice in this area,” Wallace commented.

Helping hospital studies

As he pointed out, the PCRN also supports research in secondary care by helping to find and recruit suitable patients for hospital-based studies.

The total number of patients the Network has helped recruit into studies – both in primary and secondary care – grew from 140,916 in 2010-11 to 206,716 in 2011-12, a rise of 46% year on year.

This accounts for more than one third of the NIHR Clinical Research Network’s (CRN) research portfolio, which recruited 595,540 patients in total into studies during the last financial year.

“These figures indicate a strong commitment to research and innovation in primary care which will ultimately help to improve clinical outcomes for patients,” said Dr Jonathan Sheffield, chief executive of the NIHR CRN.

“They also show that clinical research is not just for the large teaching hospitals – it is absolutely core business for all parts of the NHS,” he added.