Developing sustainable regional networks for pharmacy research: The Great North Pharmacy Research Collaborative

To help grow and support pharmacy research activity, in 2016, a group of pharmacists from Durham University received institutional funding to develop a local postgraduate pharmacy research conference. The conference aimed to give postgraduate pharmacists an opportunity to showcase projects they had worked on since graduation, which included research conducted as part of doctoral or Master’s degree studies, audits, service evaluations, quality improvement projects and other work conducted in practice. The conference was held at Durham University on 1 July 2016 at the School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health, Queen’s Campus, and 51 delegates attended, including preregistration trainees (27%, n=14), pharmacy technicians (2%, n=1), pharmacists with less than two years’ experience (8%, n=4), pharmacists with more than two years’ experience (12%, n=6), senior pharmacists (24%, n=12) and non-pharmacist early career researchers (27%, n=14). Overall, 82% (n=37) of attendees were clinical pharmacists, with the remainder coming from academia. 

An online survey emailed to delegates after the event was used to collate feedback. Some 68% (n=35) of delegates completed the survey, with 50% (n=17) stating that they ‘agreed’, and 40% (n=14) stating that they ‘strongly agreed’, that the conference was a good opportunity to network and collaborate with pharmacy research colleagues in the region. In total, 89% (n=31) of the responders indicated that they would attend a similar conference in the future, although free-text comments suggested improvements regarding timing and scope.

At the same time as the development of the conference, the regional North East England senior pharmacy managers group established a sub-committee to support research in the area; liaise with interested parties; and develop a research strategy for the region. The sub-committee included senior academic pharmacists, chief pharmacists from secondary care with an interest in research, community pharmacy leaders and representatives from clinical commissioning groups.

In 2017, the conference organisers and regional senior pharmacy managers sub-committee joined forces to form the Great North Pharmacy Research Collaborative (GNPRC). This supported a motion that the postgraduate research event could be developed into an annual conference.

The second conference, developed and held at the University of Sunderland in 2017, drew on financial support from the National Institute for Clinical Research and Pharmacy Research UK to engage keynote speakers and provide prizes for best poster and oral presentation. Attendance increased to 69 delegates; 74% (n=46) were from academia and 37% (n=23) were clinically based. However, the majority of pharmacists in attendance were senior pharmacists, rather than junior pharmacists who could build research into their practice from the ground up.

To engage with more junior pharmacists, the GNPRC worked with regional preregistration training providers during 2017/2018 to include the conference as a regional training event. This meant that all preregistration trainees had to submit an abstract outlining an audit, quality improvement project or piece of research. The abstracts were then reviewed and scored using a standardised framework of assessment established by the GNPRC. The authors of abstracts with the highest scores were invited to deliver an oral presentation, while those with lower scores were invited to present a poster. Abstract submissions were also invited from foundation pharmacists, doctoral students and early careers researchers in fields relevant to pharmacy.

In 2018, the GNPRC partnered with Pharmacy Management, which provided administrative and operational support to deliver the event, resulting in 109 delegates attending. Feedback from the conference indicated that 97% (n=40) of respondents felt the conference covered interesting topics, 69% (n=29) rated the opportunity to network at the event as ‘excellent’ and 60% (n=25) rated the event as a good opportunity for personal development.

Continued partnership with Pharmacy Management in 2019 saw the conference grow to 193 delegates. Around 17% (n=34) of delegates were from an academic institution and 55% (n=107) were from organisations that provided clinical services. The remaining delegates were from other sectors, such as industry, governance and education (e.g. the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education). Analytics from Twitter indicated that more than 30,000 impressions were made in the month leading up to the conference, with around 450 profile visits to the conference’s Twitter account and 97 mentions. These data indicate that not only is the conference growing, but it is creating a space for clinical pharmacists and academics to work together to support pharmacy research.

Although developing a new conference from scratch has presented challenges, the feedback has been positive, and the size and scope of the event continues to grow each year. Furthermore, it is demonstrating an impact on junior pharmacists across the region. For example, the project awarded ‘best preregistration poster’ at the 2018 conference was then presented nationally and internationally, and has subsequently been published in a peer-reviewed journal. The winner of the 2018 ‘best oral presentation’ prize is now engaged in research-active clinical practice, and returned to the conference in 2019 to outline a more recent study evaluating the management of sleep disturbances in inpatient settings. In addition, the winner of the 2016 ‘best oral presentation’ has a research-active clinical career and now co-supervises preregistration and Master’s-level students’ projects, while working across primary and secondary care.

The opportunity provided by the conference for these newly qualified pharmacists to engage with research and extend their professional network has been significant. This indicates that a conference of this nature can provide a platform for pharmacists to build research-active careers. Although our event is very much still in its infancy, we hope that it can continue to grow and support research activity in North East England.


Adam Pattison Rathbone, lecturer in social and clinical pharmacy, Newcastle University

Gemma Donovan, lecturer in pharmacy practice, Sunderland University

Julia Blagburn, lead pharmacist for integrated care, Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust

Laura Tweddle, lead pharmacist for education and training, South Tees NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust

Anthony Young, lead pharmacist for research and workforce development, Cumbria, Tyne and Wear Mental Health Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Wasim Baqir, lead pharmacist for research and development, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust



The authors would like to thank Clare Tolley, Tahmina Rokib, Paul Denny and David Campbell, as well as Pharmacy Research UK, the National Institute of Health Research, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Northern Local Practice Forum, Pharmacy Management, and the Academic Health Sciences Network North Cumbria and the North East, who provided financial support for previous events.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Developing sustainable regional networks for pharmacy research: The Great North Pharmacy Research Collaborative;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20207524

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