Intended for healthcare professionals

Primary Care

Networks for research in primary health care

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 10 March 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:588
  1. Paul Thomas (, director of West London Research Networka,
  2. Frances Griffiths, clinical senior lecturerb,
  3. Joe Kai, clinical senior lecturerc,
  4. Aislinn O'Dwyer, programme managerd
  1. a Department of Primary Health Care and General Practice, Imperial College School of Medicine, Charing Cross Campus, Reynold's Building, London W6 8RP
  2. b Centre for Primary Health Care Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL
  3. c Department of Primary Care and General Practice, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT
  4. d North West Primary Care Research and Development Programme, NHS Executive North-West, Millennium Park, Birchwood, Warrington WA3 7QN
  1. Correspondence to: P Thomas
  • Accepted 21 December 2000

Editorial by Green and Dovey

The evolution of the academic discipline of primary care throughout the world is resulting in more primary care practitioners taking part in research. Primary care has a generalist nature,1 and several research approaches are therefore required to understand the complex interplay between medical and psychosocial factors in the discipline.2 Collaboration is needed between primary care professionals (general practitioners, nurses, health visitors, etc) and a variety of academics with a breadth of expertise.3 In this article we give an overview of primary care research networks. These networks were established as a way to enable diverse practitioners to engage in research. We start by outlining what these networks are and what they do, using examples from the United Kingdom and elsewhere. We then go on to discuss the lessons learnt from UK experience and suggest how these lessons can be built on through better integration with emerging primary care structures.

Origins of primary care research networks in the United Kingdom

Primary care research networks began to develop in the United Kingdom in the 1960s (box), but until recently there has been little political recognition of their importance. Primary care research was specifically included in the NHS research and development strategy for England and Wales for the first time in 1997. Before then there was no acknowledgement in government of the need to address the low research capacity of primary care. In 1997, the research and development in primary care national working group recommended an investment in care research networks to “achieve an evidence based culture in primary care.”4

Summary box

Research networks have been established throughout the United Kingdom and internationally to develop research and education in primary health care and implement research evidence

These networks can enable multidisciplinary coalitions of researchers to address diverse research agendas

Networks may use different organisational approaches including bottom …

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