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NIHR annual statistics highlight sustained public enthusiasm across South West for participating in research

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The latest NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) annual statistics show research participation levels across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset remain at remarkably high levels, following an unprecedented period in research history.

Following an incredibly busy year for NIHR research in 2020/21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the public in the South West has continued to support vital research in phenomenal numbers between April 2021 and March 2022. Over this period, 44,596 participants took part in 531 portfolio studies in the region – a 45% increase on the number of studies offered to people across the South West during 2020/21.

Nationally, 1,289,937 participants took part in over 4,600 portfolio studies in England.

Strengthening partnerships across the NHS

Offering participation opportunities and recruiting volunteers across the country is vital to the CRN’s mission of increasing diversity in research studies and improving health outcomes in under-served communities. In 2021/22, every NHS trust across England once again recruited participants to take part in clinical research studies.

68% of GP practices across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset also recruited participants to NIHR CRN supported studies, providing further opportunities to take part in research at the first point of care. Nationally, 51% of GP practices recruited into studies - this is the highest number ever, and paves the way to grow primary care research even further in the future.

The Clinical Research Network South West Peninsula (CRN SWP) supported 285 sites across the region to recruit into studies – a 33% increase on the number of sites recruiting during 2020/21.

Leading the world with COVID-19 research

The CRN SWP continued to play a vital role in delivering COVID-19 research throughout 2021/22. 22,476 participants across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset took part in a total of 40 COVID-19 studies. Nationally, 772,359 participants across the UK took part in a total of 308 COVID-19 studies - 700,602 of these were recruited in England. These included pivotal vaccine trials and innovative studies investigating COVID-19 treatments in community and hospital settings.

One of the major COVID-19 study successes was the PANORAMIC antiviral treatment trial, which with NIHR CRN support has become the UK’s fastest recruiting primary care interventional trial. Over 25,000 participants enrolled in PANORAMIC within 5 months, and it is also currently the largest trial of community-based treatment for COVID-19 anywhere in the world. Regionally 454 participants enrolled in the study between December 2021 and March 2022.

Collaborating with the life sciences industry

1,442 participants across the South West took part in commercial studies in 2021/22, whilst nationally 28,193 of participants took part in studies sponsored by the life sciences industry, demonstrating the CRN’s commitment to expanding collaboration with professionals and participants in this field.

Participants’ experience of taking part in research

Each year, the CRN creates a Participant Research Experience Survey, and encourages participants to feed back their experiences of taking part in research.

In 2021/22, a total of 1,232 research participants completed the NIHR CRN SWP’s Participant Research Experience Survey (against a target of 775 responses). A detailed report will be published later in the year, with responses helping us learn what we can improve for the future.

Looking to the future

Professor Michael Gibbons, Clinical Director for the Clinical Research Network South West Peninsula, said: “The figures for the last financial year are a great achievement for all involved and highlight the growing commitment to research from both health and care organisations, their staff and patients in the South West. If it wasn’t for the continued hard work and dedication from our teams across the region we wouldn’t be able to achieve all that we do in the clinical research field.

“Thank you, also, to the 44,596 people across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset who have who given their time over the last year to enable us to carry out vitally important research both for COVID-19 and many, many other diseases areas, all of them helping to increase our understanding of illness and develop the treatments of the future.  Without them, none of this would be possible.”

Mike Visick, Chief Operating Officer, CRN SWP, said: “It is particularly exciting to see the achievements of our research collaborations in the region. As a research network we are committed to supporting collaboration amongst our partnering organisations, both in and outside of NHS settings, to ensure we offer our patients trials we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.

“Improving the clinical research infrastructure in the South West by forming collaborations between trusts, GP practices, dental practices, schools, care homes, local authorities and community healthcare providers is vitally important in ensuring we are able to offer our patients more and more trials year-on-year, in turn enabling our clinicians to deliver the very best in healthcare.”

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.”