Public involvement in health research: a case study of one NHS project over 5 years

Amanda Howe, Sarah Delaney, Jacqueline Romero, Adele Tinsley, Penny Vicary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Public involvement, both in the National Health Service (NHS) and in clinical research, is promoted as an important democratic principle. The declared aims are to reduce professional autocracy and allow a broader ownership of the research agenda; also to improve the design of, and recruitment and retention of patients to, clinical studies. There have been a number of national initiatives in the UK to improve public input to clinical research activities, but very few reports of effective and sustainable partnerships over time. This study reports the evaluation of one example, which is embedded in the NHS and university partnerships in the Norfolk area of England.
Objectives Evaluate:
• Putting principles into practice of public involvement in research over a 5 year period for one specific project (Patient and Public Involvement in Research).
• How the model contributes to, and impacts upon, all stages of the research process.
• Attitudes of the research community and lay volunteers to their mutual experiences of public involvement.
• Key factors and strengths of this project, and areas for improvement.
Methods: A mixed methods approach related to the 5 years from start of 2003 to end of 2007. This used descriptive statistics of volunteer activity, interviews with key stakeholders (13), questionnaires (53% response rate), and focus group with 10 volunteers to explore emergent themes. We analysed findings using a policy framework approach.
Results: About 47 of the original 55 volunteers remained on the panel after 5 years. All have undertaken training, 38% have been involved in the full range of research activities offered, and 75% have attended at least one research project meeting. Some are active in governance, ethics, and advisory committees.
Both the research community and the volunteers are very positive about the project. The researchers find it provides well prepared personnel, and gives a speedy and efficient way of fulfilling the expectations of funders for lay input. The volunteers find it gives them important opportunities to influence the quality of research and thus support improvements in patient care. Areas for improvement include increasing social diversity among the volunteers, and improving feedback on input from volunteers, without which volunteers tend to lose confidence and motivation.
Conclusion: Long-term sustainable and valuable public input to research is possible. Key factors are committing resources, embedding the service in the infrastructure of a research consortium, and ongoing responsiveness by NHS staff and researchers. Additional activity to recruit and support access may be needed to attract people from a broad range of sociodemographic backgrounds. Some volunteers want more involvement than this model currently offers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-28
Number of pages12
JournalHealth Care Research & Development
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • improving quality
  • public involvement
  • research

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