research-assistantsA team of researchers based at Oxford Health has been recognised in the Clinical Research Impact category of this year’s HSJ Awards – for enabling more patients to take part in vital research into mental health.

It is an area which, until now, has seen fewer people get involved in research, compared to other fields such as cancer, where it is more routine.

Oxford Health’s solution to encourage greater involvement was a pilot project to introduce ‘research assistants’ (RAs) – people whose role was half clinical, half research – to be fully part of clinical teams.

Being in the clinical teams and helping with patient care meant RAs could:

  • increase awareness of research and of studies available to patients.
  • demonstrate that studies don’t harm and are associated with improved outcomes for patients.
  • help research departments become more aware and sensitive to the pressures in clinical services.
  • help patients decide for themselves whether to take part.
  • allow for studies into the full range of mental health that are sensitive to services’ needs.

See Dr Andrew Molodynski and team manager, Zandie Forrest on ‘That’s Oxfordshire’ discussing their work and the award:

Mental health problems account for over a quarter of all illness nationally (28%), but services are less well-funded than physical health problems (18% of NHS spending goes on mental health) and mental health research gets just 5.5% of total UK health research spending.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Andrew Molodynski, who leads the project jointly with team manager Zandie Forrest, says:

“We hope that our small scale initiative has really put patients first. Our main aim is to get to the point where individuals decide for themselves whether they take part in research or not and to ensure this is not governed by other factors, such as hardworking clinicians being understandably too busy or people not having information about what’s available.”

Good results:

  • a large number of patients benefited from additional support and research assistants gained more clinical experience.
  • more patients were offered the chance to take part in valuable research.
  • Oxford Health is now the highest recruiting mental health trust per head of population for studies supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

With seven research assistants in community mental health teams, supported by a manager and a consultant psychiatrist, the pilot was able to support studies into new therapies like virtual reality treatments to help manage and overcome paranoid thoughts. They’ve helped implement True Colours which offers online self-monitoring and management for patients and provides valuable insights for researching, improving and developing psychological treatments.

The pilot has run for a year and is now expanding into children’s and young people’s services and to inpatient units. Andrew Molodynski says:

“Over the coming years we hope to strengthen this approach to create a true sense of joint venture between health professionals and people who use services. We want to bring about the best quality research locally to improve care for future generations, to support and improve care now, and to increase real and genuine partnership in local health care research. The initiative has been truly embraced by staff and people who use services. Oxford Health is now the highest recruiting trust for mental health studies in the country as a result.”

The Health Service Journal’s annual national awards are ‘the most sought after award in British healthcare’. Working together to ‘bridge the gap’, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust has been shortlisted in the Clinical Research Impact category. Finalists will learn if they have won on Wednesday 23 November.

Pictured above: Zandie Forrest, Andrew Molodynski, Brad Mullins, Jana Safarikova, Joanna Ciapala, Ros Humphreys, Fay Davies, Maninder Kaur, Christina Cusack, Claudia Hurducas.