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Case study: Sussex Partnership’s Trust’s Dementia Assessment Service North West Sussex

As we launch the Research Support Awards 2023/24, we talk to one of last year’s winners, and find out the secret to their success.

The Research Support Awards are now in their third year, and have become an established part of the Kent, Surrey and Sussex research calendar.

Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s Dementia Assessment Service, North West Sussex (DAS NWS) won an award last year. The team exemplifies the spirit of the Awards. A frontline clinical team with no formal responsibility for delivering research, DAS NWS has successfully integrated access to research into their patient pathway.

While this has obvious benefits for the research studies being conducted at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, it is clear that the team’s primary motivation is patient care.

Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s DAS NWS receives patient referrals from GPs for Dementia Assessments. The team is based in the Horsham area and covers Mid Sussex, Crawley, Horsham and some of its respective neighbouring villages. The team assess, diagnose and, if necessary treat if diagnosed, then discharge dementia patients on behalf of the Trust back to their GPs.

As such, the DAS NWS team is perfectly positioned to begin conversations with patients about research.

“There is very strong communication between our team and the research team,” explains team leader Natalie Antoine. “The Research team always tells us what studies are available, share studies that are running and the referral criteria. We all keep these in mind when we meet with patients,” she says. “Because we are seeing patients at the very beginning of their journey, and are assessing their treatment needs, we are well-positioned to talk to them about any research studies available. They might not benefit from themselves but they are happy to participate if it will help in the future.”

The role of the DAS NWS team in recruiting participants to studies varies, depending on the situation, and patient's choice:

“Sometimes we will have a very general conversation with the patient about research, and if they are interested we refer them to the research team who provide more information,” says Natalie. “The research team then discusses the details of the studies that are currently running that may be suitable for that client.

“In other cases, and following discussion with the patient, we can use our knowledge and experience to assess safety issues, whether the patient could participate in a certain study then we forward their details for further consent,” she says.

Colleen Sutton, a Nurse Prescriber in the team with significant experience in working with dementia patients explained that on one study - DETERMIND - the recruitment rate was so high that the clinical team invited the research team to attend their clinics.

“Communication is very good between the research team and our team,” she said. “They regularly attend our team meetings and update us on the studies available to patients, and the referral criteria,” she says.

It is also becoming increasingly common for patients to arrive at DAS NWS with their own knowledge of research. Tools such as the NIHR’s Be Part of Research website are allowing people to find out more on their own, with teams like DAS NWS able to act as facilitators.

“Often people come to us already with knowledge of the research and a desire to participate,” says Natalie. “That makes our job very easy and we can get their consent and refer them directly to the research team for more detail.”

Colleen adds:

“The patient already understands some of the potential benefits. Any time a new dementia drug or treatment is announced, we are flooded with enquiries. In that sense, the appetite for involvement in research is very high, although people sometimes are not sure exactly what it entails.”

Since winning the award last year, the team has seen an uptick in the number of patients attending clinics face-to-face, making research recruitment easier. The team has recently been working on the COBALT study, which is a medical research trail for people with a recent diagnosis of Dementia with Lewy Body or Parkinson Disease Dementia, and who have recently started treatment of Memantine.

Nominating the DAS North WS team for last year’s awards, Natalie Portwine, Dementia Clinical Team Lead from Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust's Dementia Research Unit, said it very clearly: “We could not run the studies without their support.”

Click here to find out more about the Research Support Awards, and how to nominate someone this year.

The other winners last year were the Maternity Triage, Antenatal Ward and Maidstone Birth Centre Teams (joint award), at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, Natasha James, Senior Respiratory Practitioner Community Respiratory Team at Medway Community Healthcare, Fiona Green of Brockwood Medical Practice, and Angela Tongson of Summerlands Care Home.