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The National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) has announced the new membership for its School for Primary Care Research (SPCR) with funding of over £30 million, over the next five years, to support the next phase of the NIHR SPCR research and capacity programme.

From September 2015, NIHR SPCR membership will include the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge, Keele, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Southampton and UCL.

The NIHR SPCR will continue its mandate to increase the evidence base for primary care practice and train future leaders by providing multi-disciplinary training and career development opportunities.

Professor Richard Hobbs, Head of Department at University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, has been re-appointed as Director and looks forward to leading the School into its new phase, working closely with members to develop a new business strategy and research and capacity programme.

I am delighted to be re-appointed as Director of the School for Primary Care Research and would like to extend a warm welcome to colleagues at the Universities of Cambridge and Newcastle. Over the next five years, I look forward to seeing existing and new members develop innovative collaborations and excellent research, continuing to provide impact and inform the development of improved primary care practice across many areas of proficiency.”  - Director of SPCR, Professor Richard Hobbs

The School will be supported by NIHR research funding in the region of £22 million to conduct clinical trials and other well-designed studies in primary care and at the interface with secondary care. This new allocation will build on the 252 research projects funded since the School’s establishment in 2006, and develop new areas of research expertise. The School’s research currently covers the following interrelating research themes: 

  • long-term condition management
  • methodological innovation
  • multi-morbidity and ageing
  • patient centred care
  • prevention and diagnosis.

Since the establishment of the School, research has influenced primary care practitioners and policy, and informed areas of secondary care beyond GP surgeries. An example being a study on the rising number of A&E admissions published by the Nuffield Trust in November, 2013. Research on the carers of victims of domestic violence shows implications for primary care and public health policy, as does research that considers the under representation of minority ethnic groups in research. Alongside studies that address the effects of an increasing aged population, the SPCR is conducting timely research into antimicrobial resistance and multimorbidity, collaborating and pooling expertise in large inter-departmental studies.

Evidence of the School's impact was foregrounded at the SPCR showcase in September with over 130 oral and poster presentations. The event also highlighted the diverse range of primary care topics currently under investigation including: studies on the integration of patient and public involvement in research; patient reported outcomes; the treatment of dementia in primary care; primary care informatics; improving the identification of familial hypercholesterolaemia; the treatment of atrial fibrillation of the aged; and, chronic kidney disease clinical trials.

Researchers have been widely consulted by the Department of Health, the NHS, the RCGP, with outputs informing NICE guidelines. Highlights over the years include the citing by NICE of an article  on alcohol consumption screening of newly-registered patients in primary care, published in the British Journal of General Practitioners. Media coverage has been received for various projects including: Predicting the risk of Cancer in the £2 million CANDID project which was also the first multi-department collaborative project within the School; ethnographic research into the rising number of hospital admissions received coverage in PULSE magazine from a publication in the British Medical Journal; and, the new OxWATCH study focusing on women’s health before, during and after pregnancy received coverage on BBC Oxford. Since the completion of NIHR SPCR-funded research into multi-morbidity, colleagues from member departments have collaborated on a new NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research funded 3D study to improve the quality of life for patients suffering with multiple long-term conditions.

In addition to supporting research, funding in the region of £10 million will be awarded to research training and capacity development within the School. The School has provided funding to 85 trainees since its inception, who conduct research across a multitude of primary care topics. Trainees have represented the School at national and international conferences where they have been recipients of countless awards and prizes including the prestigious Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Yvonne Carter award for Outstanding New Researcher. Best First Time Presentation was awarded to a trainee at the Australian Association for Academic Primary Care, Primary Health Care Conference; a trainee was asked to be a panellist on a National Science Foundation sponsored workshop on robust research in the social, behavioural, and economic sciences, in Washington DC; and, many Society of Academic Primary Care (SAPC) regional and national poster prizes have been received by SPCR trainees.

The Cambridge Primary Care Unit is delighted to be re-joining the School for Primary Care Research. Professor Jonathan Mant, who leads the Primary Care Unit, said: “We see this as a wonderful opportunity to build academic capacity in primary care locally, and to collaborate with other members of the School in generating high quality research evidence to underpin future delivery of health care in the community.

This will make a real difference to our ability to impact on improved primary care practice and on the patient experience. We hope to contribute to research in prevention and diagnosis, including for example, early detection of type 2 diabetes and novel and scalable interventions for smoking cessation using very brief face-to-face interventions and mobile technology.

Second, we hope to explore the effectiveness of approaches to improving the delivery of end of life care in the community - the NIHR School is well placed to access the data needed to make an important international contribution. Third, we will be able to develop and evaluate interventions to enhance the interaction between patients and practitioners and look at how that can improve the quality of care offered”.

Professor Louise Robinson, who is a prestigious NIHR Research Professor and directs Newcastle University Institute for Ageing, said: “This is a great boost for academic primary care in the north.  There are significant inequalities in health in the north east and this is particularly evident to general practitioners. Membership of this national network of research leaders in primary care will enable us to continue to work with others to improve the health of the worst off. With my new GP colleague, Professor Barbara Hanratty, we will continue to grow our primary care research within Newcastle University’s international excellence in ageing."

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