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The SAPC's aim is to promote excellence in research, education and policy development in general practice and primary health care. The annual conference is our main showcase for this, and it is important that we strive to make it of the highest possible quality. This effort is given welcome stimulus by Allen Dietrich's kind and constructive comments — our thanks to him for taking the time to provide this view from the outside. The exchange visits between NAPCRG and SAPC are a very positive feature of the primary care conference scene. One challenge that Professor Dietrich lays down, is how to enhance and enlarge the international content of the SAPC meeting without losing its intimacy and scientific quality. It is a debate familiar to other specialties — the US has led the way in international showpiece medical scientific conferences, but European and other international organisations are providing strong competition. And competition is an issue — for people's time not least — how many conferences in a particular field can be sustained? This question is especially pertinent for primary care, where pharmaceutical sponsorship is a less obvious solution than in other fields. But high quality research interchange demands that our meetings have international representation, and SAPC must address this, if it is to avoid parochialism in its representation of current research activity in primary care.
Professor Dietrich's first challenge is even more pertinent. Other UK clinical specialties — the British ‘ology’ Societies — attract significant numbers of clinicians with no direct research responsibilities to their annual scientific meetings; the SAPC meeting does not. The clinical research agenda in the UK is increasingly emphasising two things: the need for high quality research and the need for it to influence practice in the near future. It is time for clinical and academic leaders in primary care to work out how we can compete most effectively with other specialties, in providing an arena where research, education and policy can be debated by representatives from the whole of primary care.
Professor Dietrich's final point is easier to address. We need to learn from the US and European tradition of not only celebrating our academic trainees, but also making them more visible and providing opportunities for interaction at meetings such as SAPC. One positive move is the new academic research training fellowship and lectureship scheme — the ‘Walport’ trainees, who will meet nationally as a group; and SAPC has regional meetings, which traditionally emphasise new researcher presentations. However, the national meeting clearly needs to provide more opportunities for trainee researchers to meet each other and the leaders in their field. On one issue we would go further than Professor Dietrich. Senior researchers should regard it as a responsibility when attending conferences, to actively engage with as many of the sessions, posters, and junior researchers as they can. Conferences should not simply be about cosy meetings with mates, and the sight of the individual stranded by an unvisited poster should not be an acceptable part of the conference scene.
Professor Dietrich's questions about QOF are all pertinent and reflect the wider interest in pay for performance, and its effects on quality, coming from outside the UK. We would add a concern about the appearance in journals of conflicting results based on data collected for financial not research purposes. As to the discussion that was missing from the conference, we will do our best to provide an arena at a future SAPC meeting for issues in evaluating QOF and its effects, including methodology, to be debated in full.
Finally it is good to have positive feedback on issues that for organisers are always tricky to judge — the poster session, the quality of the science and the mix of topics. We hope the warmth of Allen's report will send readers scurrying to register for the 2007 SAPC conference in London. See you there!