Headlines: March 2nd, 2007



Thousands of NHS patients could benefit from the latest medical treatments at their on GP surgeries, health centres or dental practices following a decision to invest 2 million pounds a year into an initiative to involve more people in clinical studies. The money will be used to establish a Primary Care Research Network made up of eight regional teams of specialist doctors, nurses and scientists to work with local health professionals to raise awareness among clinicians of those studies that are currently recruiting patients.

The eight Local Research Networks will have the task of widening patient participation in suitable studies and each network will get an average 250,000 pounds every year to employ dedicated research staff, including personnel from nursing or life sciences backgrounds, such as clinical studies officers, clinical research facilitators and research nurses. The Primary Care Research Network will begin work from April 1st and the regional operations are already recruiting their specialist teams.

The Department of Health hopes many types of studies will be available through the PCRN but most will focus on those areas for which primary care has particular responsibility, such as disease prevention, screening and early diagnosis health promotion and the clinical management of long-term conditions. The aim is that patients will benefit from quicker and easier access to innovative approaches and it is expected that tens of thousands more patients will be involved in clinical studies as a result. The Department points to the National Cancer Research Network, which has tripled the number of patients entering clinical trials in the last five years and says the PCRN should achieve comparable results.

Professor Paul Wallace, Director of the Network, said the majority of patient contacts with the Health Service took place in primary care so it was important to have a strong evidence base to inform clinical practice in that area. “The PCRN will constitute a unique resource providing patients throughout England with the opportunity to benefit from engagement with primary care studies, and thus to contribute to the development of this evidence base,” he said.

Among the first studies patients will be encouraged to take part through the network will be a screening programme for 4,000 patients from ethnic minority communities in Birmingham to detect early signs of heart failure and a trial looking at the treatment of severe and acute symptoms of sore throat in everyday practice, which will involve up to 3,000 patients. In another study 480 patients being treated by their family doctors for hypertension will be taught how to take their own blood pressure and to adjust their own medication under supervision. Their progress will then becompared to that of patients managed by their doctor alone.