A record high: Participation in NIHR Clinical Research Network studies in South West doubles in pandemic year
The latest NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) annual statistics show the extraordinary impact the South West Peninsula made in delivering vital clinical research during the 2020/21 pandemic.
An unprecedented number of participants took part in NIHR Clinical Research Network South West Peninsula (CRN SWP) -supported studies in the twelve months between April 2020 and March 2021 - participation levels were nearly double the previous year. Over this period, a total of 45,293 participants enrolled in CRN portfolio studies across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset in 2020/21 - up 86% from 24,310 in 2019/20.
Nationally, the NIHR CRN helped 1,390,483 participants take part in portfolio studies in England in 2020/21 - the largest number ever to take part in NIHR CRN supported clinical research in a single year (up from 732,176 in 2019/20).
Leading the world with COVID-19 research
Throughout the year, the Clinical Research 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, including in the South West Peninsula, enabled the NIHR to quickly pivot its core business to focus on leading the global fight against COVID.
Regionally, the NIHR CRN SWP has been at the forefront of research into COVID-19 - with 25 studies prioritised with Urgent Public Health (UPH) status delivered locally. We helped research teams across the South West recruit 29,839 participants into these studies, with 1,751 taking part in 4 COVID-19 vaccine studies delivered regionally. An astonishing 1,012,485 participants took part in key UPH studies across the UK, with 905,790 participants recruited in England alone.
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 3 working days (against a target of 9 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. Participants in this study are expected to number over 900,000, once confirmed, and NIHR is pleased to have provided support to this and other COVID research not covered by these statistics.
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 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. The same is also true in the South West Peninsula.
Over the year, 58% of GP practices across Devon, Cornwall and Somerset recruited participants to NIHR CRN supported studies. Nationally, 50% of GP practices across the country recruited participants into studies, rising from 36% in 2019/20. This is in part due to the PRINCIPLE study, delivered by GP practices across the country as well as locally, 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 across the country. Locally, 1,446 people responded to the survey which showed 9 out of 10 participants would take 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.”
Dr Pauline McGlone, Chief Operating Officer, NIHR CRN SWP, said: “I am incredibly proud of the achievements in the South West this year. The organisations and staff across the health and care system have worked incredibly hard in challenging times offering many research opportunities to patients and the public. I want to thank participants for their commitment and time to research, the success has only been possible because of you. This year has been an extraordinary one for research and shows what can be achieved."
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 had restarted 81% of previously paused commercial contract studies (against a target 80%). At the end of the financial year, 77% 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.