The value of patient groups in general practice

The Patient Partnership Group (PPG) at Holycroft Surgery in West Yorkshire helped to change the culture in their practice by providing support to evaluate the impact of social prescribing on patients. Their work supported patients in adopting healthier life styles and embedded research as part of everyday practice to the benefit of the practice and patients.


Holycroft Surgery PPG became the first ever winners of the National Association for Patient Participation (NAPP) Research Engagement Award in March 2015; an award that recognises patient groups that freely give their time to help drive clinical research within their local general practice.

PPG Chair, Ken Hargreaves said, “We feel a real sense of achievement. This award represents the culmination of work over the past eight years since the PPG began. Hopefully this award will set precedence to other groups and practices by showcasing some of the good work that is already underway.”

Through their enthusiasm for clinical research, the PPG has helped to change the culture within Holycroft Surgery to one where research is part of everyday practice, even holding a research open day.

However, it is their initiative of working with medical students, giving them an opportunity to get involved in clinical research, which is really novel.

The PPG and Practice Manager, Andrew Haigh, worked to identify an area that might be of interest. In line with local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) priorities, and linking into projects already underway, a research project was developed to assess the value of social prescribing (non-medical opportunities or interventions to help patients adopt healthier lifestyles or improve wider social aspects of their lives, e.g. access to exercise programmes).

Two students took on the project with the PPG Chair and the Practice Manager, acting as project supervisors. Ken Hargreaves then approached other practices in the CCG area and a further six practices came on board.

Andrew Haigh, who entered the PPG for the award, summarised the PPG’s impact and what the award means to them: “This work has increased research awareness within the practice and has taken the message to other practices within the CCG. It has strengthened links with the university and with a variety of community groups. It has also encouraged clinicians within the practice to increase their involvement in research which has given us more scope for what we can deliver.”

Currently over 30% of general practices are regularly involved in conducting NIHR Network-supported studies, but there is still work to be done to maximise research opportunities for patients in primary care. This is one of the reasons why Dr Patricia Wilkie, Chair of NAPP, believes the award is so important and commends Holycroft PPG on its achievements: “It was an extremely innovative ‘bottom-up’ approach with the PPG encouraging the practice rather than the other way around. It was interesting how the project developed to include other practices, local communities and charities. A great example of how PPGs can raise awareness of research.”

Paul Wallace, Theme Co-Lead at the Clinical Research Network added, “There was strong competition and some excellent examples of how PPGs across England are being proactive in promoting a clinical research culture within general practice. In addition, the award triggered interest from a number of research-naive PPGs who, having now found out about opportunities to become involved with clinical research, are keen to apply in the future.”

Patient Participation Groups (PPGs) exist in approximately 75% of all general practices in England, and from 1 April 2015 it is a contractual requirement for all practices to have a patient group. These are usually a group of volunteer patients, the practice manager and one or more GPs who meet regularly to discuss the practice’s services, the quality of care and how improvements can be made. Promoting research awareness and creating a clinical research culture is an innovative way for PPGs to enhance services locally.

NAPP is an umbrella organisation for PPGs and other affiliated patient-led groups and has a national membership of over 1100 groups. Over the last three years the NIHR Clinical Research Network has been successfully building local partnerships with NAPP-affiliated PPGs. This has led to a national strategic partnership that aims to widen participation in clinical research and from that the new Research Engagement Award has emerged. The first winner, Holycroft Surgery Patient Council, Keighley, gained their Royal College of General Practitioners Research Ready accreditation in 2012 and has gone on to recruit patients to Clinical Research Network Portfolio studies. But it is the work of the PPG that attracted the judges’ attention by demonstrating a proactive approach to promoting clinical research.

Find out more about RCGP Research Ready ® Accreditation

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