A record high for the West Midlands Region: Participation in NIHR Clinical Research Network studies increases by 21%
The latest National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network (CRN) annual statistics show the extraordinary impact the organisation made in delivering vital clinical research during the 2020/21 pandemic.
An unprecedented number of participants took part in NIHR CRN-supported studies in the twelve months between April 2020 and March 2021. Over this period, a total of 86,808 people enrolled in CRN Portfolio studies in the West Midlands in 2020/21 - up from 71,731 in 2019/20, and contributing to a total of 1,390,483 participants in England. Read some of their stories.
Professor Matthew Brookes, Clinical Director at NIHR CRN West Midlands, said: ‘These numbers are great for both NHS patients, who are helping to shape the treatments of tomorrow, and the NHS staff, who have had such a heavy workload, particularly during COVID-19.
‘We thank them all for everything they put into research last year.’
Professor David Loughton CBE, Chief Executive of The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, which hosts the Network, comments: ‘The striking accomplishments of the CRN in the region are testament to the hard work and commitment of the excellent staff, and the willingness of participants to give up their time to help others.’
Leading the world with COVID-19 research
Throughout the year, the Network played a leading role in the fight against COVID-19 by coordinating UK wide clinical research into the disease - resulting in life saving treatments and vaccines in record time. The extensive experience, infrastructure and Networks already in place across the country enabled the NIHR to quickly pivot its core business to focus on leading the global fight against COVID.
The NIHR has been at the forefront of research into COVID-19 - with 101 studies prioritised with Urgent Public Health status and fast tracked for site set-up and delivery by the Clinical Research Network. An astonishing 1,012,485 participants took part in these key studies across the UK, with 905,790 participants recruited in England alone.
The West Midlands accounted for 67,674 of these, across 43 separate studies.
Key to the success of these Urgent Public Health studies was the unprecedented speed at which they were set up for delivery. In 2020/21, the NIHR CRN was able to set up the first site for these studies in an average of three working days (against a target of nine working days).
In this extraordinary year, it is also important to recognise the large and unprecedented number of people who have contributed to other COVID research, as participants and as researchers. These include the large number of people who have contributed to the REACT-2 study, monitoring COVID infections, which has played a really key role in informing SAGE and the Government on the pandemic.
Strengthening partnerships across the NHS and health and social care providers
The NIHR CRN’s ability to support studies across the whole country is key to successful research delivery. In 2020/21, 100% of NHS trusts across the West Midlands (and England) delivered NIHR CRN Portfolio studies by helping their patients take part. This is the third year in succession that every NHS trust was involved in delivering studies on the NIHR CRN Portfolio.
Over the year, 37% of GP practices recruited participants to NIHR CRN supported studies in the region.. This is in part due to the PRINCIPLE study, delivered by GP practices across the country, which enabled people with COVID-19 in the community to take part in important research investigating potential treatments from their own homes.
Participants' experience of taking part in research
Clinical research could not take place without the hundreds of thousands of people who give their time and effort to take part each year. Ensuring that these volunteers have a good experience of taking part and feel valued for their contribution is of paramount importance.
In 2020/21, a total of 20,892 research participants completed the NIHR CRN’s Participant Research Experience Survey, 1,489 of them in the West Midlands.. The vast majority of participants had a positive experience of taking part: 89% said they felt valued by researchers while 91% would consider taking part in research again.
Dr William van’t Hoff, Chief Executive of the NIHR Clinical Research Network said: 'I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved, despite the challenges of the last year, by working closely alongside the NHS in the fight against COVID-19, while trying to maintain vital clinical research into all other health conditions. Our collective impact is already saving millions of lives around the world.
'I want to thank everyone who has been involved in clinical research in any way - members of the public, health and care professionals, support staff, and our partners across the health research system and the life sciences industry. It’s because of you that we are able to look back on the successes of research over the last year that have helped us tackle the greatest health emergency of our lifetimes.'
Restarting non-COVID-19 research
Throughout the year, research teams kept as much non-COVID research ongoing as possible, particularly research that offered the potential for life extending or improving care. However, it was necessary to pause and restart many existing studies into other health conditions, as both research and NHS services responded to the pandemic.
As of 31 March 2021, the NIHR CRN West Midlands had restarted 91% of previously paused commercial contract studies (against a target 80%). At the end of the financial year, 87% of paused non-commercial studies had been restarted (against a target of 80%).
Addressing the negative impact that the pandemic has had on other health and social care research continues to be a key priority for NIHR in 2021/22 as part of its Managed Recovery programme.
About the NIHR Clinical Research Network annual statistics
The NIHR Clinical Research Network’s annual research statistics provide the most comprehensive data around the state of clinical research across the country. These data are from studies on the NIHR CRN portfolio - which cover the bulk of clinical research studies delivered in England.