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Br J Gen Pract. Dec 1999; 49(449): 967–970.
PMCID: PMC1313581

Research capacity in UK primary care.

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Moves towards a 'primary care-led' National Health Service (NHS) and towards evidence-based care have focused attention upon the need for evaluative research relating to the structure, delivery, and outcome of primary health care in the United Kingdom (UK). This paper describes work carried out to inform the Department of Health Committee on Research and Development (R&D) in Primary Care (Mant Committee). AIM: To describe the extent and nature of current research capacity in primary care in the UK and to identify future needs and priorities. METHOD: Funding data were requested from NHS National Programmes, NHS Executive Regional Offices, the Department of Health (DoH), Scottish Office, Medical Research Council, and some charities. A postal survey was sent to relevant academic departments, and appropriate academic journals were reviewed from 1992 to 1996. In addition, interviews were conducted with academic and professional leaders in primary care. RESULTS: Overall, total annual primary care R&D spend by the NHS and the DoH was found to be 7% of the total spend, although annual primary care R&D spend differs according to funding source. Journals relating to primary care do not, with some notable exceptions (e.g. British Journal of General Practice, Family Practice), have high academic status, and research into primary care by academic departments is, with perhaps the exception of general practice, on a small scale. The research base of most primary care professions is minimal, and significant barriers were identified that will need addressing if research capacity is to be expanded. CONCLUSION: There are strong arguments for the development of primary care research in a 'primary care-led' NHS in the UK. However, dashes for growth or attempts to expand capacity from the present infrastructure must be avoided in favour of endeavours to foster a sustainable, long-term research infrastructure capable of responding meaningfully to identified needs.

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