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Number of participants recruited to studies in North West London doubles during pandemic year

The latest 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 — with participation levels nearly double the previous year. Over this period, a total of 1,390,483 participants enrolled in CRN portfolio studies in England in 2020/21 — up from 732,176 in 2019/20.

The number of participants also doubled locally in North West London, with a total of 59,859 recruited — up from 29,137 in 2019/20.

Additionally there was an increase in participants taking part in CRN-supported commercial contract research — studies sponsored by the life sciences industry — with 1,949 recruited in North West London during 2020/21. Up from 1,532 in the previous year.


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.

A total of 31,329 participants were recruited to these studies in North West London.

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, we also want to recognise the large number of people who have contributed to the REACT 2 study, led by our partners at Imperial College London.

This study monitored COVID infections, which has played a really key role in informing SAGE and the Government on the pandemic. The NIHR is pleased to have provided support to this and other COVID research.


Joanne Holloway, Chief Operating Officer at the CRN North West London, said:

“It’s fantastic news that so many people have taken part in research across North West London during the pandemic. It’s thanks to volunteers that new treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 were found quickly.

“It’s been a very challenging time but with the efforts of all involved — patients, researchers, support staff — so much has been achieved.”


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.


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.

Every year, the NIHR asks thousands of people who volunteered for health research to give feedback so we can make improvements, where needed, to improve participant experience.

In North West London, 1,117 children and adults completed the Participant in Research Experienced Survey (PRES). The majority had a positive experience, with 93% agreeing that they would take part in research again.

Several research participants who completed the survey went on to share their experiences with us, including Robert Pearce, a 69-year-old businessman from London. Catching COVID-19 led to a stint in intensive care for him. And he’s now volunteering in research looking into the long-term effects of the virus.

He said: "The researchers are incredibly grateful for the participation. And that's incredibly nice, it makes it a very pleasant experience." You can read Robert’s story here.

Also take a look at the results for the PRES as they come in on our PRES Dashboard here (scroll to the bottom of the linked page).


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.

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.

As of 31 March 2021, the NIHR CRN had restarted 81% of previously paused commercial contract studies (against a target 80%). And 77% of paused non-commercial studies had been restarted (against a target of 80%).

In North West London, as of the end of the 2020/21 period, 83% of previously paused commercial contract studies and 73% of paused non-commercial studies had been restarted.


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.