General practice offers rich and diverse opportunities to conduct clinical research – with excellent electronic records, access to nearly the entire population and staff who value evidence for practice. 43% of all those recruited to research in the East of England were recruited through General Practice in 2015/16. Because primary care is fragmented into thousands of individual practices round the country, these results depend upon a coordinated approach across the different practices. Dr Jonathan Graffy explains: “Most academics don’t have the time, or the understanding of the everyday pressures that practice teams face, to devise recruitment strategies which will work in practice. So there is a job to be done at the interface between science and everyday work, translating plans and making them work”.
Dr Graffy established the Primary Care Research Network for East of England and was Clinical Director from its establishment in 2007. When the NIHR brought together all the clinical research networks in 2013, he was appointed one of the three clinical directors and helped lead that reorganisation. More recently he switched focus to the delivery of Primary Care Research, as Clinical Specialty Lead.
Conducting primary care research
The NHS research networks are established with local coordinators and research nurses who establish ongoing relations with practices in their localities. The primary care team in CRN Eastern is led by Helen Macdonald. Their role is to coordinate study delivery, ensure that the work planned is feasible and that funding is in place for the time that practice staff spend on facilitating the research. In 2015/16, 16,260 people, (43% of all those recruited to research in the East of England), were recruited through General Practice – a substantial contribution to health research across all topics.
My priority is to ensure it is as easy as possible for practice teams – and for patients when they are approached by their practice – to say “Yes” when asked to take part in research. Ultimately this means making sure the research is realistic and worthwhile, and that all the bureaucratic and logistic obstacles are reduced to a minimum.
Publishing in peer reviewed journals is important, but I’d also like to help researchers feed back results locally – so that more of what we discover gets put into practice”.
– Dr Jonathan Graffy
In March 2016, Dr Graffy received an Honorary Professorship in Primary Health Care at University of East Anglia, primarily in recognition of his work in leading the establishment of the Clinical Research Network. This recognition was partly for Dr Graffy’s work through the network, and partly for his wider work as a clinical academic, including recent work on peer support for Type 2 diabetes. It demonstrates how UEA is keen to develop collaborative links with researchers across the NHS and other academic institutions.
Dr Jonathan Graffy’s profile page
About the NIHR Clinical Research Network
More about the NIHR CRN Eastern