For clinical research to make a difference, it must become routine practice. But this is not an automatic process, and research adoption is being examined as a distinct part of the research ‘pipeline’. On 30 October, we held a workshop to find out how charities can fund research that will be adopted by the NHS. It was a busy day with speakers from across the NIHR infrastructure as well as the Health Foundation, NICE and the Oxford Academic Health Science Network. In this blog, we summarise the themes from the day and discuss what funders can do to increase uptake of research by the NHS to bring benefit to patients.
To start the day, we heard from Professor Ruairidh Milne from the Wessex Institute about maximising the impact by: asking the right question, using the appropriate methodology, ensuring a speedily delivery, accessing full reports and making sure the outputs are unbiased and usable. Taking the first point further, we heard from Richard Morley, a James Lind Alliance adviser talking about Priority Setting Partnerships (PSP) which identify the most pressing research questions that need answering, based on input from patients, carers and clinicians. Many charities have set up their own PSPs such as Marie Curie Cancer Care and Fight for Sight and we think they are an important way for charities to bring in ‘patient voice’ as part of setting their own research strategies.
The questions raised by PSP’s are often specific and best answered via a commissioned research call, where the funder provides a detailed brief of the research that is required. We heard from two speakers on managing a commissioned research call , where the charity plays a big part in defining a specific research question that it would like answering. This can generate interest in areas that have traditionally been under studied and it’s a different way in which funders can focus research questions. To help, we’ve put together a briefing for charities thinking about doing their own commissioned call.
The second half of the day focused on how to get research adopted by the NHS. We heard Sally Chisholm, Programme Director at NICE discuss system and operational as well human hurdles that can prevent research being adopted. Sally pointed out that in order to change practice, funders needed to fully understand the way that patients are currently cared for and how this is delivered. She went on to describe the influence of local strategic priorities and the decision making processes operating in the NHS and how the NICE Health Technologies Adoption Programme and NICE Implementation Collaborative can promote research adoption and the uptake of NICE guidelines.
The next talk focussed on implementation science – a new discipline for many funders looking at the mechanics underlying how research might be adopted by studying the processes used in the NHS. This could be important for everyone involved in research and healthcare in order for research to actually reach patients. Implementation research examines how research can change practice and what needs to happen operationally in the NHS for it to be adopted. Prof Jane Sandall gave advice to funders on when implementation should be thought about, and the types of frameworks and professionals who should be involved.
In the final session, we heard from an Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) and an NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in the Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC). There are 15 AHSNs and 13 CLAHRCs – almost one for every network – and each have different areas of disease or condition to focus on. Both organisations aim to increase collaborative working to bring new research into the NHS, but they need to balance the national priorities with local need. This can be problematic, especially if their priorities don’t match that of a charity, but we heard a fantastic example whereby The Stroke Association has partnered with Manchester CLAHRC to look at stroke service provision in the North West. This type of service-centric research, where charities have an in depth understanding of patient need is clearly an opportunity to collaborative working with the adoption infrastructure.
To sum up, there’s great potential for funders to get involved in the next steps of funding research from bench to bedside: to adoption in the NHS and there are routes beginning to appear where charities can get involved in this space – notably through CLAHRCs and AHSNs. By funding research that patients want and need as well as understanding how to implement research, charities can take an important role in bringing research one step closer to patients.