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Case study: Record year for recruitment to Primary Care research in Greater Manchester and East Cheshire

CRN Greater Manchester carried out a range of new initiatives which resulted in improved engagement with health and care professionals working in Primary Care in Greater Manchester and East Cheshire.


Traditionally, CRN Greater Manchester’s recruitment in Primary Care has been challenging, due factors such as time constraints, capacity and estate issues. For the year 2023/24, we refreshed our Primary Care strategy and introduced a number of new actions. The strategy has been a success because engagement, recruitment and the number of studies delivered in GP practices in Greater Manchester and East Cheshire reached an all-time high in 2023/24.

Outcomes in 2023/24

A total of 12,072 participants were involved in research, 184 practices recruited to studies,  and 103 of these practices were ranked as ‘research-naive’, meaning they had not delivered research with the CRN previously. Compared to the previous year, there was also a 20% increase in practices on the Research Site Initiative (RSI) Scheme. RSI provides sites with funding to establish and maintain their infrastructure to enable them to deliver NIHR portfolio research.

Initiatives undertaken

Our improved outcomes in Primary Care have followed numerous examples of adopting new initiatives and collaborative work with partner organisations in the Greater Manchester health and care system. 

  • From a staffing perspective, we created the new full-time post of Research Support Facilitator to focus on Primary Care engagement. This post-holder, Ewa Grzegorska, regularly meets with practices to support research activities. We also recruited three new Primary Care Specialty Leads: Dr Omair Razzaq, Dr Imran Ghafoor and Dr Rebbca Clarke. Dr Clarke, who is based in Lancashire outside of our current CRN footprint, has allowed us to begin aligning our activities ahead of the formation of the Research Delivery Network covering the entire North West from October 2024. All three have been proactive in meeting with GPs to discuss their personal experiences of delivering research in a Primary Care setting.
  • We have developed close ties with the Greater Manchester Primary Care Provider Board, which launched a Primary Care Network (PCN) Development Programme in 2023/24. This presented a useful opportunity for primary care practitioners to come together to share learning and good practice. We became part of this community after being invited to deliver a Hot Topic Session on delivering research in Primary Care. As a result, we received interest from several research-naive PCNs keen to start their research journeys and this led to expressions of interest in them delivering studies. We now have a presence on the GM PC Provider Board website and provide them with a monthly newsletter to share with their audience. We also attended the Greater Manchester Primary Care Summit in March 2024, enabling us to develop more new contacts and share best practice. 
  • We have embraced new ways of communicating with our key audience. Dr Ghafoor and Ewa recorded a research-focused episode of the Primary Care Knowledge Boost podcast which has an established listenership across the region. To date, the episode has had over 6,500 downloads and prompted a number of GPs to get in touch, saying they were inspired to learn more after listening. 
  • We held our first Primary Care Meeting, open to the entire regional Primary Care community, in January 2024. It was hosted by one of our strongest performing practices, St Johns Medical Centre in Altrincham. We worked with the GM PC Provider Board to publicise the meeting and had over 60 attendees (face-to-face and virtual). The next meeting is scheduled for April 2024. 
  • We introduced a new recognition scheme which has had a focus on acknowledging success in Primary Care and other community settings. The CRN Greater Manchester Certificate of Achievement is presented to deserving teams or individuals who have made a significant contribution to the delivery of health and care research in the region. So far, three of our GP practices have been presented with this accolade
  • A review of our Research Site Initiative (RSI) Scheme prompted us to conduct a deep dive into our Primary Care portfolio and promote studies which are light touch and strengthen the appetite to deliver further research studies. This has helped research-naive practices get on board and make their first steps in delivering research to their patients. Studies of this type have included the South Asia Biobank (700 participants recruited in two-and-a-half months) which has required GP signposting, and the Discover Me study which is looking at how health and genetic information can allow us to better understand disease. Twenty practices recruited almost 6,000 participants to Discover Me. 
  • We wrote to GP practices encouraging them to sign up to the National Contract Value Review (NCVR), which is the standardised, national approach to costing for commercial contract research. The first phase of this approach involved approaching all of our commercially-active research practices so that we could assist with any queries in a timely manner. Since December 2023, 24 GP practices have signed up to NCVR, which made us the highest region for practices on NCVR. 

Future plans 

From 1 October 2024 CRN Greater Manchester will merge with CRN North West Coast to form the NIHR North West Research Delivery Network. This means we will serve a diverse population of seven million people and increase our potential to deliver more studies in Primary Care across a wider footprint. We plan to continue with the initiatives which have proved successful in Greater Manchester and East Cheshire, and look forward to learning from best practice examples from our colleagues at CRN North West Coast.