An interview with the new Chair of the RCGP Scientific Foundation Board

The RCGP has been awarding research grants via the Scientific Foundation Board since 1976. The Board awards grants to research projects whose findings will be of direct relevance to the care of patients in the general practice setting. In November 2019, Professor Richard Neal took over as Chair of the Scientific Foundation Board. We speak to Richard about his research interests and priorities as the Chair.

Can you tell us a bit about your career to date?

I have been exceptionally fortunate to have worked as a clinical academic in general practice all of my career. As a GP trainee I was interested in research and audit and undertook a research training fellowship immediately after completing vocational training.

I do my clinical practice at Hawthorn Surgery in Leeds, a teaching and training practice, serving an area of predominantly white working-class patients. My academic base is within the Division of Primary Care, Palliative Care and Public Health at the University of Leeds. We have the pleasure of hosting the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Society for Academic Primary Care in July next year.

What are your main research interests?

I have been doing research that tries to help GPs diagnose cancer earlier for the best part of two decades. My work, along with that of many wonderful colleagues in the UK and internationally, has been impactful on cancer diagnosis.

One major project which I am involved in at present is CanTest, a Cancer Research UK funded Catalyst award that aims to change the paradigm of cancer diagnosis from secondary to primary care. The five-year programme involves four UK centres (Cambridge, Exeter, UCL and Leeds) and five international partners (Seattle, Houston, Melbourne, Utrecht, and Aarhus), and has a growing portfolio of projects on a range of diagnostic tests and technologies.

I am also a Chief Investigator on WICKED (Wales Interventions for Cancer Knowledge for Early Diagnosis), a Cancer Research Wales funded programme that aims to hasten cancer diagnosis in general practice. I am starting on a feasibility trial, testing a theory-based intervention.

The Yorkshire Lung Screening Trial, which I am a part of, is funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research. People who smoke, or used to smoke, aged 55-80, living in the more deprived parts of Leeds, are identified through their general practices and randomised to receive the intervention (Lung Health Check +/- low-dose CT on a mobile van) or control. To date, 3000 scans have been done.

 In the recent past, I have been part of the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP) that has compared the processes and timelines of cancer diagnosis in the UK nations to those with similar health systems (Canada, Australia, Denmark, Sweden and Norway). In coming years, I hope to expand a similar line of research into low and middle-income countries, especially in Asia.

Why did you apply for the role of Chair of the Scientific Foundation Board?

I have served two terms of office as a member of the Scientific Foundation Board, so I have a thorough understanding of its role and how it functions, principally in terms of awarding grants for high quality primary care research.

Early in my career, I had one of my first grants from the SFB, so I know what it means for early career researchers to win one.

I am experienced at chairing national level committees, so I relish the opportunity to take on this new challenge.

What are your aims as Chair of the SFB?

Primarily, I will ensure that there remains a fair and transparent process to award research grants. I have sat on other grant panels over the years and will use this experience to ensure that we fund the very best applications for both the Annual Research Grants and the Practitioner’s Allowance Grants (PAGs).

I am also very keen to explore, within the remit of SFB, how we can increase the profile and impact of research within RCGP and more widely within the primary care community.

The RCGP SFB awards grants to research projects whose findings will be of direct relevance to the care of patients in the general practice setting. For more information on the current opportunities, please visit the RCGP SFB pages. 


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