"We must take research to where people are."
In this blog, Deirdre Brooking, head of the new agile team at CRN North Thames (on the right in the above photo), explains the role of the team and how it will support research delivered outside traditional NHS settings
The research community - and wider public - should hopefully now be aware that the NIHR recently changed its name to reflect its commitment to social care research.
In the North Thames region, as is the case nationally, we are conscious of the need to take research to where people are. Increasingly, this means looking outside NHS settings – not to downplay the vital role that hospitals, GP surgeries, pharmacies and others play in delivering research.
With this in mind, North Thames has a newly formed agile team, whose focus will be on supporting research in non-NHS settings.
We are a small but dedicated bunch, and exciting times lie ahead. The team is led by Deirdre Brooking, a Clinical Research Practitioner (CRP) with over 10 years' experience working in a variety of clinical specialities. The team consists of Rashika Rajakumar, Rachel Evans and Chidimma Onyejiaka, all experienced CRPs who have come from North Thames partner organisations and are excited to be part of this new initiative.
The pandemic has shown us all that not everyone with health needs visits a hospital. There are sectors in our communities that do not receive equal opportunities to take part in research, or have access to information and support. We need to highlight these health inequalities and try to level up the care available to everyone. We need to start asking the right questions. How we do this is the million dollar question! We have to engage and we must listen and develop long-standing relationships with groups. Recently I heard the phrase: “The messenger is as important as the message.” This means the researchers must become an integrated part of a community, not a body who arrives, collects data, then leaves, never to be seen again.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion has never been more important and the agile team, by the very nature of its work, is championing this.
Many of our community studies are being successfully project-managed by some of our partners. The role of the NT agile team is to make many new community connections and help build relationships to enable understanding of different health needs. The agile team can help the set up of studies, deliver them and also train the staff embedded in the organisation.
For example, we will be supporting studies in schools, family centres, care homes and hospices - all settings outside the normal bedside or outpatient environment.
This brings with it undoubted challenges, but also possibilities. We will be engaging populations of people who are not always front and centre when it comes to access to research - in essence, underserved communities - and building our expertise in delivering research in these environments.
For example, the Lolipop study is an investigation into the incidence of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes in the south Asian population. Taking place in a community centre in Stratford, patients are invited via advertisements, their GP and word-of-mouth to take part.
Another example, the GLAD study, is trying to identify genetic links to anxiety and depression. One in three people experience anxiety or depression symptoms during their lifetime. Therefore, GLAD aims to better understand anxiety and depression to find effective treatments and improve quality of life for those experiencing these conditions.
The agile team is looking for any community groups to get involved with, and social events linked to communities to come along to, so we can start working together to improve health inequalities for all.
To keep in touch with us, follow us on Twitter @NIHRNTAgileTeam or, if you need our help, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.