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Another record-breaking year for Wessex, as over 115,000 participants take part in research

More than 115,000 participants from the Wessex region took part in research in 2021/22, according to new figures published by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

The NIHR’s 2021/22 annual statistics reveal that 115,242 participants from Dorset, Hampshire, South Wiltshire and the Isle of Wight joined 665 research studies supported by the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) Wessex in the twelve months between April 2021 and March 2022.

This represents a 24% increase on the previous financial year (93,133 in 2020/21), with participation levels rising by over 22,000 in 2021/22 to help Wessex surpass their key milestone of more than 600,000 participants in NIHR CRN-supported research studies since 2008.

Alongside an increase in participation levels, the latest data also highlights a number of achievements.

Supporting groundbreaking COVID-19 research

Wessex continues to deliver world-leading COVID-19 research, recruiting participants to innovative studies investigating treatments for COVID-19 in both community and hospital settings.

Since March 2020, over 222,000 participants have supported 101 pandemic studies at over 300 sites in Wessex, with more than 10 percent of these studies developed and led by the region.

With NIHR CRN support, the PANORAMIC COVID-19 antiviral treatment trial became the UK’s fastest ever recruiting primary care interventional trial, with 25,000 participants enrolled nationally in just five months, including 376 from Wessex. PANORAMIC, which is also currently the largest trial of community-based treatment for COVID-19 anywhere in the world, was supported by 19 practices across the Wessex region.

Over 3,000 volunteers from the region have taken part in 22 COVID-19 vaccine trials since May 2020, including the Wessex-led COV-BOOST trial, which provided the world’s first data on the safety, immune responses and side-effects of third doses in mix and match schedules.

The study, led by CRN Wessex Clinical Director Professor Saul Faust, was key to shaping the UK’s 2021 autumn booster programme and continues to provide vital evidence for global vaccination efforts.

Strengthening partnerships across the NHS and health

Offering participation opportunities and recruiting volunteers across the region is vital to the CRN’s mission of increasing diversity in research studies and improving health outcomes in under-served communities.

In 2021/22, 100% of NHS trusts in Wessex recruited participants to studies. The highest ever percentage of GP practices in the region also supported research, with almost 150 practices recruiting participants. This helps to provide more opportunities to take part in research at the first point of care and paves the way to grow primary care research even further in the future.

Continued collaborations with the life-sciences industry

In 2021/22, 1,165 participants took part in 100 commercial studies supported by CRN Wessex at 24 recruiting sites, helping to demonstrate the Network’s commitment to expanding collaboration with professionals and participants in this field.

During the pandemic, CRN Wessex and its partners established a collaborative regional delivery model to enable the rapid set up and delivery of commercial studies and support companies on their journey from invention to adoption.

Sustained public enthusiasm for participating in research

Research could not take place without the hundreds of thousands of people who give their time and effort to take part. Ensuring that these participants have a good experience of taking part and feel valued for their contribution is of paramount importance to the CRN and its research delivery partners.

In 2021/22, a total of 1,193 research participants in Wessex completed the NIHR CRN’s Participant in Research Experience Survey (PRES), with their responses helping us to learn ways to improve research delivery in the future.

Of adult participants surveyed in Wessex, 93% said that they would consider taking part in research again, while 98% reported that research staff had always treated them with courtesy and respect.

The desire to help others was a strong theme within our 2021/22 survey, with a high number of participants citing wanting to make a difference as their reason for taking part in research.

Reflecting on the 2021/22 annual statics, Professor Saul Faust, Clinical Director of NIHR CRN Wessex, said:

“2021/22 was another unprecedented year in research history, and while the health and care system continued to feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can all feel incredibly proud of what has been achieved.

“As we reflect on another record-breaking year for Wessex, we’d like to thank every single person who has supported health and care research in our region, from all the participants who have so generously given up their time to take part in studies, to our fantastic research teams. They are all playing a vital role in helping people to live healthier and better lives now, and in the future.

“As we look to the year ahead, we hope to continue to raise awareness of the opportunities to support research and its essential role in improving health and care. Alongside our continued support for COVID-19 studies, we remain focused on the recovery of all research and building on the many successes and lessons learnt throughout the pandemic.

“At present, only six per cent of study research sites in Wessex remain paused for reasons related to the pandemic, which is a fantastic achievement given the challenges we have faced in the last few years, and is a testament to the resilience and dedication of our research teams. Whatever comes next, there is no doubt that the collaborative research delivery model that we have established places the region in a strong position to respond.”

Dr William van’t Hoff, Chief Executive of the NIHR Clinical Research Network, said:

“Against the backdrop of the pandemic and as we support the recovery of the UK research portfolio, our roles and achievements for NIHR remain vital. I want to offer a huge thank you to everyone who’s been involved in the incredible successes over the last year. By taking part, shaping or delivering this research you have helped develop the evidence and treatments that will benefit us all.

“This year we look forward to further building on these successes - playing our role contributing to the system-wide Research Reset programme, increasing our research in primary care and community settings, and further ensuring our research meets the needs of all our communities, across the country, so we can improve health, care and quality of life for everyone.”

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.

Read the full NIHR Clinical Research Network annual statistics for 2021/22.

Find out more about the NIHR Clinical Research Network.