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Over 93,000 participants take part in research, after record-breaking year for Wessex

In Wessex, 93,133 participants have joined research studies supported by the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) in the twelve months between April 2020 and March 2021, according to latest figures published by the NIHR.

The NIHR’s 2020/21 annual statistics show that it has been a record-breaking year for Wessex, with an unprecedented number of participants taking part in research.

Participation levels were more than double that of the previous year, rising by over 56,000 to help Wessex surpass a key milestone of more than 500,000 participants in NIHR CRN-supported research studies since 2008.

Leading COVID research

The 2020/21 annual statistics highlight the role of the region in delivering vital clinical research during the pandemic, with more than 82,000 participants recruited to 64 COVID-19 related studies.

The NIHR has been at the forefront of research into COVID-19 - with 101 studies prioritised with Urgent Public Health (UPH) status nationally and fast tracked for site set-up and delivery. In Wessex, 38,308 participants were recruited to 45 UPH studies, nine of which were led by CRN Wessex.

Key to the success of these UPH studies was the unprecedented speed at which they were set up for delivery. In 2020/21, CRN Wessex was able to set up the first site for these studies in a median of four working days, against a target of nine.

Supporting non-COVID research

Alongside delivery of COVID-19 studies, research teams kept as much non-COVID research going as possible, particularly research that offered participants the potential for life-extending or life-improving care.

In 2020/21, Wessex supported 420 non-COVID related studies across 30 specialty areas. While 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 the NIHR and CRN Wessex, as part of the Managed Recovery programme.

Strengthening partnerships across the NHS and health and social care providers

CRN Wessex’s ability to support research across its entire geography has been key to increasing participation in research.

The 2020/21 annual statistics show that research took place at all NHS Trusts in the Wessex region, which covers Dorset, Hampshire, South Wiltshire and the Isle of Wight.

Additionally, Wessex saw the highest ever number of primary care sites supporting research, with a total of 178. The rise in primary care sites is due in part to the PRINCIPLE study, which was supported by GP practices across the region and enabled people with COVID-19 to take part in research from their own homes.

In settings outside of the NHS, research was supported across 18 different sites.

Participant experience of taking part in research

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 490 research participants completed CRN Wessex’s Participant Research Experience Survey (PRES).

The vast majority of participants had a positive experience of taking part: 93.5% said they felt valued by researchers while 96.5% would consider taking part in research again.

Following publication of the NIHR’s 2020/21 annual statistics, Professor Saul Faust, Clinical Director of NIHR CRN Wessex, said:

“After another record-breaking year for Wessex, we’d like to thank everyone in the region for their contributions, which have changed lives and improved care.

“We have been overwhelmed by the response from patients and the public, who continue to step forward and support our research, playing a key part in tackling the pandemic.

“Recruiting more than 93,000 participants into NIHR CRN-supported studies in 2020/21, and over 500,000 participants since 2008, would not have been possible without the support and collaboration of huge numbers of people, teams and organisations across the region.

“These important collaborations placed the Network, and the region, in a strong position to respond to the call to support the delivery of urgent public health research at the outbreak of the pandemic.

“It’s been a difficult time for everyone but the Wessex research community has risen to the challenge, going above and beyond to create opportunities for patients and the public to get involved in research. I am very proud of what we have achieved.”