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University Hospitals Plymouth is top UK recruiter for research studies

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHP) is celebrating being top of the leader board as the highest recruiting large acute trust for commercial studies in the country.

According to the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)’s Open Data Platform, UHP recruited a total number of 597 participants to commercial studies in the financial year 2021-2022, which is the highest number compared to all large acute trusts across the UK.

“Despite a really challenging year, the Research and Development team, in collaboration with our Principal Investigators and their clinical teams have pulled out all the stops to make this recruitment figure possible,” explains Dr Gary Minto, Director of Research and Development at UHP. “Research is everyone’s business, and UHP staff have shown great resilience throughout the pandemic. Our research delivery team, even when redeployed for long periods to clinical services, have still managed to juggle a vast research portfolio at the same time. It’s really important that we acknowledge everyone’s contribution to this success.

“Our strong performance is also testimony to the extraordinary willingness of our local communities to contribute altruistically to improving health for others by engaging in clinical studies. It would not have been possible without each and every participant who was willing to be involved in research.”

R&D team celebrate International Clinical Trials Day 2022 To mark International Clinical Trials Day, being held on 20 May this year to celebrate the anniversary of the first clinical trial by James Lind in 1747, we look back at some of the Research and Development team’s most recent achievements.

In the two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 8351 participants across 193 different research studies have been recruited at UHP. Five of these were trials of new and booster vaccinations, in collaboration with the UK Government’s Vaccine Taskforce and the NIHR Clinical Research Network. UHP recruited over one thousand participants across these trials alone, exceeding contracted targets in each.

“We were staggered by the number of volunteers who came forward,” adds Gary. “In fact, at least four times the number of participants registered their interest to participate. The people of Plymouth and surrounding areas demonstrated great selflessness and sheer commitment in their response to the pandemic, and we are grateful for their substantial contribution to increase the number of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines through research.”

In particular, ENSEMBLE 2, an international COVID-19 vaccine trial, saw UHP become the first research site in the world to successfully recruit more than 500 volunteers.

“Our success in this area is also owed to a seven day per week commitment from the research delivery team and the Immunology clinical service, particularly Dr Claire Bethune who led all five of the trials,” adds Gary.

UHP’s success as the highest recruiting site also expands to include non-COVID-19 related studies, such as MICAH, which stands for Multicentre Cohort Study in Alcoholic Hepatitis. The study aims to develop clinical tests to improve the management of the disease, which is currently untreatable. Dr Ashwin Dhanda, Consultant Hepatologist at UHP and a Co-Investigator on MICAH, said: “The challenge with recruiting to MICAH is identifying potentially eligible patients as soon as possible during their unplanned hospital admission. The key to our success is flexible working, with an engaged research team – in particular, the close working together of both clinical and nursing teams.”

In addition to being top of the leader board, UHP is regularly first off the mark when it comes to recruiting participants to new studies.

Last year the haematology team at UHP recruited the first UK patients in two studies seeking treatments for rare blood disorders. The trials are looking into the effectiveness of two monoclonal antibody treatments in patients with warm haemolytic anaemia (warm AIHA or wAIHA) and immune thrombocytopenia (ITP). Both are auto-immune conditions in which the body’s immune system malfunctions and works to destroy certain components of the blood – platelets in the case of ITP, and red blood cells in wAIHA.

Dr Wayne Thomas, Consultant Haematologist and UHP’s Principal Investigator for the wAIHA trial, said: “Most of our success is down to our UHP research team, who are awesome and have done every type of trial out there. The Trust research set up is really good, particularly in haematology. With such expertise within the team and doing research so well, it’s no surprise they are often approached for further studies.”

A graphic of figures for 2021-22 UHP staff also authored 491 published papers in 2021/2022 and one in particular was identified by publisher Springer Nature as “one of the most impactful publications of 2021”. The article is entitled ‘The role of cervical collars and verbal instructions in minimising spinal movement during self-extrication following a motor vehicle collision – a biomechanical study using healthy volunteers’, with Emergency Medicine Consultant Tim Nutbeam as lead author.

“There’s something in the character of people from Devon and Cornwall that makes them put themselves forward to be involved in these studies, to push forward the frontiers of healthcare for the sake of others. We’ve seen that throughout COVID: in all of our vaccine trials, in our Covid wards, and we’re seeing it now as we begin to re-open more and more of our research into long term and acute medical conditions,” summarises Gary.

UHP is an acute specialist hospital with a large and active Research and Development team, recognising that patients who take part in research have better outcomes. It recruits thousands of patients to participate in research each year, with approximately 600 trials open to recruitment or in follow up any one time.

To find out more about Research and Development at University Hospitals Plymouth, please visit:

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