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£1.7m funding boost for long-term collaborations to improve adult social care

Active connections between research and those working in care homes are crucial to ensuring the best experience and support for those using the care system
Annette Boaz, said: "Care homes are an integral part of social care in the UK. Fostering strong connections between the researchers and those involved in social care day-to-day will have even more of an impact for those using the care system."

A new project aimed at fostering novel, sustainable partnerships between universities and care homes in the UK has received nearly £1.7 million funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research.

Care homes have particular challenges in doing and using research, many of which have been brought to light during the COVID-19 pandemic. Academic research has the potential to play a crucial role in improving adult social care to meet the needs of those who use it, as well as their family and friends.

During this four-year long project, the researchers will develop, implement and evaluate an approach called ‘Research Practice Partnerships’ in adult social care by establishing long-term collaborations between researchers and those working in social care. They are hoping to replicate the promising results already achieved in the US, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands.  For example, a similar model in the Netherland (The Living Lab) has been running for nearly 25 years, pursuing a range of projects including an evaluation of innovative dementia care design, development of a pain assessment tool for people with dementia and a large scale European study focused on the transition from home care to nursing care.  

These partnerships vary depending on local need, but start with researchers and care home staff working together to identify shared priorities for the partnership.

The project is led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), in partnership with the London School of Economics, Sheffield Hallam University, Research in Practice, the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services, Point of Care Foundation, Shaping Our Lives, and Walnut Care.

By enabling researchers and practitioners in adult social care to work more closely together through long-term partnerships, the research generated could be more useful and usable for those working to improve services and outcomes for care home residents.

Annette Boaz, Professor of Health and Social Care Policy at LSHTM, said: “Care homes are an integral part of social care in the UK. Many researchers are doing incredible work towards improving quality of life and care, but we believe by fostering strong connections between the researchers and those involved in social care day-to-day, this research will have even more of an impact for those using the care system.”

We have identified three teams who will work with us to establish partnerships with care homes based in Chester, Lancashire and Newcastle, bringing together a range of people with experience in social care to design and test how effective these sites are at improving social care in the area. This includes people with lived experience of the adult social care system, social care providers and researchers in the area. The partnerships will be supported by designers and experts in implementation, improvement and evaluation.

Already one of the partnerships has been able to leverage in additional resources because of their status as a research practice partnership.  

Using interviews, observing meetings, surveys and other channels, the researchers aim to understand how the partnerships work and what difference they make to the experiences of those in social care, and how cost-effective they are.

They also hope to explore how this approach could be applied to other parts of the UK, and if it could be expanded to other areas of social care, such as at-home care.

This project is part of a cluster of six NIHR funded research partnerships.  Led by the Kent Research Partnership, the six projects have secured additional funding to work with academic and social care partners to develop a cross-partnership online Social Care Research Resource Centre, in which all partnerships can share learning, resources, training materials, and offer joint opportunities to emerging social care research practitioners.  This sort of coordination is critical to making sure we make the most of the recent increase in investment in adult social care research.

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