The Primary Care Research Network (PCRN), the latest tributary in the UK Clinical Research Network (UKCRN), will start operating from 1 April 2007. The eight Local Research Networks that make up the PCRN are already in place and are recruiting specialist teams to work towards wider patient involvement in clinical trials at primary care level.

The UK government will invest £2 million per year, or an average of £250 million per Local Research Network, in the initiative through the consolidated National Institute for Health Research. The PRCN launch follows in the footsteps of topic-specific clinical research networks for Cancer, Mental Health, Diabetes, Medicines for Children, Stroke and Dementia/Neurodegenerative Diseases. The UKCRN was established by the Department of Health in February 2005 to spearhead the development of a nationwide infrastructure for clinical trials in the National Health Service.

As PCRN director Professor Paul Wallace noted, the vast majority of patient contacts with the NHS occur through primary care, so it is “critically important to have a strong evidence base to inform clinical practice in this area”. Integrating primary care into the UKCRN was one of the high-priority recommendations made by the network’s Industry Road Map Group.

The Primary Care Research Network spans eight regions of England, with each Local Research Network managed within a host organisation. The East Midlands and South Yorkshire network, for example, is hosted by Leicester City Primary Care Trust, while the Greater London network is managed by the London Strategic Health Authority.

The specialist teams comprising the local networks will include doctors and other staff with experience in nursing or life sciences, such as clinical studies officers, clinical research facilitators and research nurses. They will work with general practices, health centres and dental practices to help raise awareness among clinicians of primary care studies that are recruiting patients.

Most of the clinical trials routed through the PCRN are expected to focus on areas for which primary care has particular responsibility, such as disease prevention and health promotion, screening and early diagnosis, or the clinical management of long-term conditions. Among the first wave of studies that will be recruiting through the PCRN is TASMINH 2, a controlled trial of self-management in hypertension under the supervision of a GP.