Opening opportunities for GP trainees and allied health professionals to get into research: the PACT ‘Why test?’ study



by Dr Jessica Watson, NIHR Clinical Lecturer in General Practice, Centre for Academic Primary Care, University of Bristol

Have you ever found yourself looking at blood test results and wondered why the test was done in the first place?

Why Test? – It seems like a simple question. Yet despite increasing access to research databases such as Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD), which contain millions of test results, there is no easy way to find out why these tests are being performed in the first place. How many are for monitoring, screening or diagnosis? Which symptoms trigger testing? To explore this, we are launching the Why Test study using the Primary Care Academic CollaboraTive (PACT).

Currently, only a tiny proportion of primary care clinicians have a formal academic contract with a University. PACT aims to open up opportunities for non-academic primary care clinicians to get involved in grassroots research – and so far over 500 healthcare workers across the UK have signed up!

The PACT network offers the opportunity to collect data which cannot otherwise be captured. Why are tests ordered? Who orders tests? What happens with the results? How are test results communicated to patients?

Sometimes the simplest questions are the most important ones. At a practice level this research may flag up important areas for quality improvement. A lack of failsafe mechanisms for actioning and communicating abnormal results could lead to patient harms such as delayed diagnosis.

At a national level this research can help us start to understand the drivers for increasing rates of primary care testing, which is important for patient anxiety, GP workload and NHS costs.

GP trainees are always on the lookout for audit and quality improvement projects – this research offers a ‘ready-to-go’ project for their ePortfolio, as well as giving them the chance to get involved in something much bigger. As well as collecting data, PACT members will be able to engage in the research process through our interactive NIHR Learn platform, and will be named as authors or collaborators (depending on journal guidelines) on the final publication in a peer reviewed journal.

Not everyone gets the opportunity and privilege of a formal research training pathway; to improve primary care research for all we need to breakdown barriers between academic GPs and those at the coalface of general practice. We welcome all clinicians working in primary care (not just GPs) – no previous research experience is needed. To find out more see our website or email

Why Test? is funded by Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group.

This blog post was first published on the Society for Academic Primary Care website.

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