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Clinical Research Network South London's Strategy 2021-2024



In 2018/19 the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) South London published a four-year local delivery strategy. Whilst much of the strategy remains relevant, COVID-19 and the Urgent Public Health (UPH) response to the pandemic has provided a sharp focus on the need for agile and collaborative working.

The pandemic has highlighted both the need for research to be delivered at scale and pace and has been a platform for raising awareness of the NIHR, CRN and clinical research with the public, media, Government and within the NHS itself. Equally, the pandemic has also highlighted ongoing disparities in access to healthcare and research in relation to social deprivation, ethnicity and other factors.

This document aims to provide a refreshed strategy to run to the end of the current CRN contract in September 2024 whilst maintaining the ethos of many aspects of the original strategy.

Our purpose

We provide the practical support that researchers in south London need to deliver high quality clinical and other health-related NIHR portfolio research studies in the NHS for the benefit of our local patient population.

Our scope

CRN South London works to support research delivery in line with research strategies implemented by our partners in the local NHS, social care and other areas. The providers we work with include 12 NHS organisations and two Integrated Care Boards, as well as specialist, academic and non-academic providers. The Network also supports research activities in the acute, community and mental health sectors, as well as more broadly supporting public health and social care research.

Our principles

The Network will be guided by the following principles:

  • we will ensure that the areas we focus on locally align with the annual agreed national priorities of the NIHR Clinical Research Network, and our CRN will provide a coordinated and innovative approach
  • we will work to support a portfolio of COVID-19 and other non-COVID studies in a coordinated and regional fashion, which will align with the national prioritisation of the portfolio
  • establish mechanisms to ensure there are appropriate approaches to support the Recovery, Resilience and Growth (RRG) programme for the non-COVID research portfolio (in line with local services and any national priorities)
  • foster relationships between NHS organisations, other healthcare providers and, more broadly, across social care to ensure that research is delivered effectively and efficiently with models that align to changing patient flows and pathways
  • increase and broaden the opportunities for all people across England to participate in health research and to take a practical approach to broadening the inclusivity of access to research
  • provide researchers with the practical support they need to make clinical research studies happen in the NHS and in social care
  • we will work cohesively with other parts of the NIHR infrastructure within the locality, as well as collaborating with other regional CRNs to extend the reach of research opportunities. Increasingly we will collaborate with the local Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), Integrated Care Systems (ICS), the NHS England London regional team and other parts of the NHS and social care system to enhance research delivery opportunities
  • improve the efficient delivery of high quality clinical research
  • provide consistent and transparent approaches to providing research support to enable efficient use of CRN resources
  • our strategy will be centred around supporting the resilience and wellbeing of our dedicated CRN workforce

Our response to COVID-19

The Network will work with NHS providers and our other partners to maximise the opportunities for our local communities to have access to participate in the most relevant and appropriate COVID-19 related research. Our approach will include working to support our partners by:

  • actively disseminate research opportunities whilst promoting any national priority studies (treatment, prevention and vaccine research)
  • support and develop bespoke and novel strategic approaches in regards to the delivery of priority UPH studies
  • support and develop opportunities for collaborative working and sharing of best practice

Our response to Recovery, Resilience and Growth (RRG)

We will work on RRG with local NHS providers and our other partners to:

  • ensure a review of the current portfolio and to offer any support as appropriate and needed to local research providers
  • actively review the portfolio with input from the Study Support Service, Business Intelligence, Research Delivery (Divisional and Trust Link Managers) and relevant clinical leadership. To be able to:
  • better understand challenges and to collaboratively work together to establish bespoke recovery plans as needed
  • better understand opportunities to support research delivery in areas less affected by COVID-19
  • to seek approaches to ensure commercial portfolio uptake is maximised across the region at both traditionally active sites and at sites with less developed commercial portfolios of research. This would include supporting the development of strategic approaches for shared delivery
  • to review holistically changes to patient pathways and we will work to establish approaches to enable effective research delivery across all pathways. This would include novel and remote approaches for consent, follow-up and the support of research participants
  • develop and deliver a “Digital Strategy” for South East England to enhance engagement with Medtech and other digital innovators to grow the regional portfolio of research in this space
  • work with the national team and local partners to ensure the effective delivery of any national pilots and programmes of activities to support RRG

Our response to working to support research delivery in primary care and to integrate a broader support for delivering portfolio studies outside of the NHS

The Network will support research delivery in primary care and outside of the NHS by:

  • establishing a direct delivery team with input from the partners to enhance delivery over care pathways, primary care, social care and public health
  • further developing the clinical leadership structure to enhance engagement with social care and sites outside of the NHS
  • establishing, in consultation with our partners and leaders, a range of evolving and responsive approaches to support research in primary care, social care and other settings
  • supporting research delivery across a broad range of NHS and non-NHS providers
  • supporting feasibility and the delivery of studies within both the community and acute settings by establishing models of working to maximise direct recruitment as well as Patient Identification Centres (PIC) activity
  • establishing mechanisms to ensure public health research questions can be supported locally

Our response to engaging patients and the public on the role and delivery of research and broadening access to research

We will engage patients and the public about research by:

  • continuing to engage with our partners to establish local good news stories, patient stories and to promote them broadly through relevant channels
  • continuing to engage our local communities to provide targeted and focused communications
  • undertaking a local community needs assessment and by developing an action plan to enhance engagement with a diverse range of local stakeholders
  • reviewing our support to underserved local communities and by establishing an action plan and campaign to work collaboratively with local social leaders to enhance research engagement
  • assessing and developing approaches for capturing information of relevance to inclusivity in our Local Portfolio Management System (LPMS), so we can benchmark inclusivity and measure improvements in our reach
  • assessing the legacy of messaging from positive outcomes of COVID-19 research to suit the needs of our local audiences
  • aligning ourselves to any national approach in promoting and utilising the vaccine research registry, Join Dementia Research service and any other national platforms for consent to contact
  • broadening access and the utility of our Research Champions in supporting local partners and the broader CRN delivery on local initiatives and support of other promotional/ Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) initiatives
  • the effective delivery of the Participant in Research Experience Survey (PRES) and by establishing a broader action plan based on people’s feedback

Our response to supporting our workforce

The Network will continue to support its workforce by:

  • establishing and sharing a high quality wellbeing programme to support the holistic needs of the CRN and broader research workforce
  • developing a robust and nimble approach for our partners to access support from the agile workforce
  • developing a robust and transparent approach to induction and matrix management
  • supporting and encouraging personal development, education and training that is pertinent and appropriate
  • ensuring CRN staff demonstrate the core values and behaviours as well as those of our employing Trust and by embedding an ethos of wellbeing
  • supporting leadership and training programmes relevant to the local NIHR community and individuals within the team

Our approach to funding the system

A two-year funding model was agreed through our Partnership Board for the period of 2021/22 and 2022/23. However, the CRN Leadership team additionally:

  • for 2021/22, utilised residual “Greenshoot” funding to support an Associate PI scheme for UPH studies
  • relaunched the “Greenshoots” scheme for 2022/23 in December 2022 
  • robustly assess business plans and financial plans to drive and allow investment of strategic funding
  • award cost-pressure funding directly to NHS partners without taking additional costs into the CRN
  • manage an effective in year contingency programme
  • as and when appropriate, refocus to align contingency funding for RRG to the health needs of our local community and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) priority diseases. Further work will be undertaken from the CRN South London Disease Prevalence paper October 2019 to ensure the system is able to align with current local needs
  • develop targeted calls for additional funding awarded for specific purposes
  • establish new working principles for a funding model suitable to drive the local research economy whilst being able to support equity of access to research across the region and across all specialities. This model would be to support the delivery of planned models of working for the new CRN contract from 2024/25 onwards. The model will need to meet the needs of any new emphasis within the CRN model as well as in supporting the delivery of an ambitious local strategy

Our continued response to working across the region with our NHS partners

We will work with our established teaching and specialist hospitals to:

  • enable sustained growth and to facilitate appropriate investment through core infrastructure for UPH and non-COVID research
  • work with the local clinical leadership community to support RRG to deliver to high performing areas of the portfolio
  • improve recruitment to time and target
  • explore opportunities to disseminate locally led studies across the region
  • ensure the uptake of national studies within the region in line with local and national research priorities
  • understand and support the delivery of our locally derived investigator initiated studies

We will work with our smaller and developing organisations to nurture areas of new potential growth through our Greenshoots programme and to support growth in areas with a more established track record of delivery by:

  • facilitating transparent access to strategic and contingency funding to support robust development plans
  • enabling transparent access to strategic PA funding to support the development of “Greenshoots” which may focus on UPH studies of non-COVID research according to current circumstances
  • facilitating mentorship/buddy relationships with larger/experienced units/investigators and through fostering relationships between organisations to evolve our approaches to supporting and developing research delivery in a complex, agile way
  • facilitating access to the agile workforce

We will also continue to work across a range of cross-cutting themes to:

  • engage our local patient population and the public in the work of the CRN
  • acknowledge the value and impact of our local community’s participation in research
  • further embed the use of the Local Portfolio Management System amongst our partners
  • evaluate and further embed our Study Support Service
  • embed a culture of continuous improvement and innovation within the CRN
  • review and evaluate the impact of digital technologies within the core delivery of the CRN’s operations

Please email if you have any questions or comments about our strategy. Our strategy is also operationalised annually through a detailed annual plan, please email us via the above address if you'd like to see our plan for the current financial year.