As the NHS marks a significant birthday, McPin’s Research Director considers its relationship to, and impact on, mental health research – and what we hope will happen next.
This week marks the birthday of the NHS, which was established on 5th July 1948 as a distinct entity, and built upon health services emerging out of World War II including hospitals, GPs and local authorities (see Nuffield Trust book for a summary history by Geoffrey Rivett).
Milestones are very much on our mind at McPin this week as we host our 10th anniversary party for staff and trustees. We are proud of the work we have done at McPin but there is much more to do in mental health research.
It seems that is the same for the NHS, which is currently experiencing workforce strikes, huge pressures post-Covid, and calls for restructures and reforms from policy think tanks, patients and staff.
The NHS is a crucial structure within the mental health research ecosystem, but I think we take it for granted a lot of the time.
The NHS and mental health research
The NHS matters to mental health researchers on many levels.
We use NHS services and so do our family and friends. We know people who work in the NHS. We work alongside many people reliant on the NHS for mental health support.
It is a crucial structure within the mental health research ecosystem, but I think we take it for granted a lot of the time. We don’t recognise what it does for our sector and openly acknowledge its contribution. But NHS@75 provides us the opportunity to do so.
The NHS and our work
We have delivered about 100 separate projects in the last 10 years and half involve the NHS, mostly as the focus of study recruitment efforts and setting for delivering and testing new mental health innovations.
For example, in PARTNERS2 we are developing a new collaborative care model for people with schizophrenia, bipolar or other psychosis, based in primary care but working across the secondary and primary care mental health interface (see our new briefing paper for details).
We are also currently recruiting people supported in secondary care services with complex depression and anxiety for a study that is trying to address loneliness by working with a Community Navigator.
This involves the research study team giving presentations, and taking to community mental health teams across several NHS Trusts, to raise awareness of the study and gain referrals for the Community Navigators.
We hope the expertise of mental health service users is centred in service development decisions, with age and culturally appropriate services being provided to all those in need.
NHS staff and peer support workers
We would like to acknowledge the importance of:
- NHS staff working on the front line – particularly in community mental health teams. When we need to recruit people to studies, we often have to work through ‘gatekeepers’ to ensure we can work safely and carefully. Inviting people into a research study who are eligible requires people to check lists or hand out invitations.
- NHS clinical academics – these are individuals who have joint roles as members of a research team and also NHS frontline clinical practice. They will often bring knowledge from their clinical role into the research programme. We’ve seen strong motivations in this group to innovate in a research space and create recommendations for change – things that are limited in routine practice.
- NHS peer support workers – this is a new group pioneering work with lived experience expertise as mental health lived experience practitioners in teams across the NHS. This is in both inpatient hospital settings and the community. There is research which is also shaping these roles and establishing a career structure for progression.
What will the next few years mean for the NHS?
We hope the expertise of mental health service users is centred in service development decisions, with age and culturally appropriate services being provided to all those in need. We hope that carers get better recognition for the support they provide in mental health.
We also hope workforce wellbeing can be prioritised with staff well supported to deliver person-centred mental healthcare.
Finally, in terms of research, we want to continue to work in partnership with the NHS to deliver useful and practical mental health science that drives changes in real word practices.
Vanessa Pinfold is Research Director and co-founder of McPin