Established in 1997 under the directorship of the Foundation Professor of General Practice, Ann Louise Kinmonth, the Primary Care Unit encompasses a multidisciplinary research group and those responsible for undergraduate teaching in general practice and primary care. The Primary Care Unit forms part of the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, and is a member of the wider Cambridge Institute of Public Health.
The Unit has established itself as one of the UK’s strongest research groupings in behavioural science and primary care, and has built an international reputation for its work on the development and trial evaluation of theory-based preventive interventions, particularly in the areas of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Recent chair appointments have strengthened the Unit’s research in cardiovascular disease (Mant), health services research (Roland) and behaviour and health (Marteau). In addition to these activities, the PCU plays a major role in organising, delivering and quality assuring teaching for student doctors at the University of Cambridge. This is coordinated by the Medical Education Group within the Unit. The integration of research and teaching adds value to the research through testing in the applied world.
The PCU comprises about 100 research, teaching and administrative staff, under the current leadership of Professor Martin Roland. The unit currently has ten NIHR Academic Clinical Fellows and nine PhD students. The Unit comprises eight groups, although there is a strong interdisciplinary approach and Unit members are encouraged and expected to collaborate widely.
The research strategy of the Primary Care Unit is central to that of the overall Department of Public Health and Primary Care, aiming to integrate approaches and findings from primary care, epidemiology and the behavioural and social sciences to address the prevention of chronic disease and its consequences. It focuses on understanding the determinants of behaviour, translating knowledge about risk factors and mechanisms into preventative and management strategies for chronic diseases, and testing these strategies in populations and settings representative of primary care. Particular areas of interest are risk communication, behaviour change, and randomised controlled trials of interventions in primary care settings.
The Primary Care Unit is committed to teaching medical students and postgraduate research students as part of its core mission, and contributes to a range of programmes in the Department and Clinical School. The University of Cambridge admits about 280 students a year to read Medicine, with 145 students entering the clinical course annually. The Clinical School also runs MB/PhD programmes and a 4-year Graduate entry programme. The PCU makes a substantial ongoing contribution to these developments through members of its General Practice Education Group (GPEG), working with approximately 100 general practices around the Eastern region, who deliver practice-based teaching.
The Primary Care Unit contributes to two Departmental Masters Courses (an MPhil in Epidemiology and an MPhil in Public Health) and is a site for Academic Clinical Training Fellows at both pre and post doctorate levels. There is also an integrated education programme for doctoral and pre-doctoral postgraduate students. The Unit runs three internal seminar programmes, including a monthly unit presentation, and separate Behavioural Science and Qualitative Research Forum groups. The Clinical School holds formal grand rounds weekly, and within the Institute of Public Health and affiliated Units there is a range of seminar programmes including the weekly Bradford Hill Seminar series run by the Department of Public Health and Primary Care which attracts international figures in epidemiology.