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General practice research unit to close

29 March 2012

The MRC General Practice Research Framework (GPRF) will close at the end of March, a result of the change in the funding of primary care research in the UK. Over the last 10 years GPRF and MRC CTU have worked closely together on various methodological projects. This was facilitated by GPRF’s co-location with the CTU in 2003.

The GPRF was the first primary care research network in the UK and was set up in 1973 by Dr Bill Miall. Dr Miall created the network to get a group of practices to collaborate on a single project, the MRC mild hypertension trial. 176 practices completed the trial, screening a total of 500,000 patients. Indeed, this was an innovative and astounding achievement at that time. The findings from this study changed the treatment of hypertension in general practice then and has great relevance to its management even today.

Recognising its potential for research in epidemiology, trials and general practice, the network was expanded and became a national resource in 1986 through funding provided by the MRC. At its peak, the GPRF had over 900 participating practices and has conducted over 100 studies, including important work on cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, infectious diseases and mental illness.

Of the many great achievements of the GPRF, in 2007, research undertaken within the unit in collaboration with University College London showed increased rates of cardiovascular diseases in schizophrenic patients. This led to a change in NICE guidance on the management of schizophrenia and to screening for cardiovascular risk factors in this group. These findings have since been incorporated into NHS practice through the quality outcomes framework which is an essential part of the NHS general practice contract. Many of the studies undertaken by GPRF have even over the last 12 months attracted media interest, such as the research on the delayed diagnosis of dementia in primary care and other research that demonstrated the increased risk of depression in new parents (both mothers and fathers) in the first year after the child’s birth.

With the creation of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in 2006, funding for primary care research became the remit of the Institute, with the MRC retaining responsibility for methodological and aetiological studies. Infrastructural support for UK primary care research (formerly provided by GPRF) is now the function of the NIHR Primary Care Research Network in England, the Scottish Primary Care Research Network, the Northern Ireland Clinical Research Network and the National Institute for Social Care and Health Research Clinical Research Centre in Wales. 

The GPRF, however, was crucial in laying the foundations for the creation and development of most of the primary care research networks across the UK and this would certainly in addition to the outstanding scientific work undertaken by the unit over the last 40 years be its lasting legacy.

The MRC’s Director of Research Declan Mulkeen said:

"The MRC is proud of GPRF’s excellent track record and achievements but the time has come to turn to the national primary care research networks (PCRNs), so that there is a 'one stop' infrastructure for primary care research."