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R&I Improving Healthcare

In March 2020, ELFT agreed a transformational new vision for Research & Innovation (R&I) over the next five years to help deliver both the Trust’s Strategy and the national ambition for health research as integral to improving NHS care and patient outcomes.  Its aims are to transform Research and Innovation into a corporate function supporting our services to deliver their improvement agenda, and broaden the spectrum of what we mean by ‘Research’ to include not just clinical research trials, but also service evaluations, case studies, audit, and Quality Improvement. 

Initially, all our plans and activities were up-ended to deal with the coronavirus pandemic in which healthcare research has played a vital role – from trials exploring ways to treat the disease, manage the contagion, and develop and test a vaccine, to dealing with the aftermath and inevitable impact on our mental health. 

As the nationally prioritised studies were designed to take place in acute hospital settings, some of our researchers volunteered to redeploy to NHS Nightingale, St Barts and The Royal London to support that work

ELFT staff have been proactive in designing COVID-related studies too. 

Jo Beckmann, a consultant paediatrician, worked with Public Health England to design the sKIDs study to examine the outbreak and prevalence of COVID-19 in schools, and our nursing and research staff were critical in its delivery.  Their findings in Newham from June/July ‘20 contributed significantly to general reopening of schools in the autumn.   

In an example of the benefits of our university partnerships, Frank Röhricht, Medical Director for Research & Innovation, worked in collaboration with Prof Rose McCabe at City University and Prof Renos Papadopoulos at University of Essex to design a survey to find out how the pandemic challenges have affected NHS staff in both positive and negative ways

The pandemic caused a pause to non-COVID work during the first wave. Subsequently, however, most studies adapted their methods from face-to-face meetings to online/telephone recruitment before restarting.   

Following from the success of the PRIDE study [1],  we have continued with our research co-production initiative inviting new volunteers with lived experience to develop and deliver a study, this time on their chosen topic of advanced directives.  The 20+ team are supported by experts from both the Trust and academics from City University.  Some group alumni have gone on to secure roles with South London & the Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and McPin Foundation from the confidence they have developed. 

In 2021, we created an additional Clinical Studies Officer post specifically for a person with Lived Experience both to provide employment opportunities for people on their recovery journey as well as to bring additional depth and breadth of lived experience to the team. This has been an extremely successful appointment, with the new team member one of our most prolific at enrolling study participants.  

[1] Curwen et al (2019) Exploring experiences of people participation activities in a British national health service trust: a service user-led research project, Research Involvement and Engagement 5(1) DOI: 10.1186/s40900-019-0140-8 

ELFT is managing a number of research grants, continuing the trend of funding awarded to chief investigators who are early career and/or in new clinical areas. 

  • In September 2018, the ERA trial started. It is funded by the NIHR’s Health Technology Assessment (HTA) programme. The trial is led by Dr Catherine Carr of Queen Mary, University of London, and tests the effectiveness of art, music and dance-movement therapy delivered in diagnostically mixed groups for community patients. It is the largest and methodologically most rigorous trial ever conducted on arts therapies in such settings and run mainly in ELFT. 
  • In December 2020, work commenced on remote delivery of an app-based intervention DIALOG+ in community mental health care led by Dr Philip McNamee, funded by a grant from the NIHR Invention for Innovation (i4i) programme. 
  • The Trust was awarded an NIHR Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) grant to explore the Role of Staff and Team Communication in Reducing Seclusion, Restraint and Forced Tranquilisation in Acute Inpatient Mental Health Settings led by Dr Mary Lavelle at Queen’s University Belfast. 
  • Prof Steve Gillard of City, University of London, will lead the efforts to put the ENRICH study into practice: informing the successful introduction of peer workers into mental health services (ENRICHMENT), funded by an NIHR Programme Development Grant. 
  • Finally, Consultant Paediatrician Michelle Heys has been awarded grants from a) The Barts & The London Charity for a study focused on engaging unaccompanied asylum seeking children; and b) the Paul Foundation to explore evaluating autism online in an ethnically diverse population of children and young people

Overall, ELFT is currently managing over £9 million in active research grants. 

A significant part of research at ELFT is conducted in collaboration with a range of academic partners.  In 2021, we welcomed Prof Liz Sampson of UCL as joint clinical lead for Liaison Psychiatry.  Her expertise in epidemiology and health services research for older people will bring new focus to this clinical area. 

In addition to Prof Sampson, two more senior academics are joining ELFT in the coming year, thus expanding our expertise in population health, older people’s mental health, and learning disabilities – all new areas for ELFT in terms of research and innovation.  

Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Afia Ali is a clinical-academic with a track record on stigma research and clinical trials of psychosocial interventions in people with learning disability from her previous post as Associate Professor at University College London.   

While new head of Queen Mary University of London’s (QMUL) Centre for Psychiatry and Mental Health, Prof Claudia Cooper is a jointly appointed clinical-academic interested in the epidemiology of older people's mental health, happiness and wellbeing, and in the mental health of carers of people with dementia.  

The Unit for Social and Community Psychiatry is a designated World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre. The Unit is one of currently only 14 mental health related WHO Collaborating Centres in Europe and the only one specifically for 'mental health services development' in the world. The role of this Centre involved the publication of a Technical Guidance for Mental Health Promotion and Mental Health Care for Refugees and Migrants, which the WHO issued to all Governments in Europe (authors Domenico Giacco and Stefan Priebe), and the advisory role of Professor Priebe on the National Mental Health Strategy for Malta which was launched in December 2018. 

The Unit is supported both by the Trust and Queen Mary University of London. It is based at the Trust's Newham Centre for Mental Health.