A national publication highlighting how the National Institute for Health and Care Research Applied Research Collaborations (NIHR ARCs) rose to the challenge of COVID-19 has been launched today (23 March), on the third anniversary of the first UK lockdown.

Vital work from across the ARCs, in response to the pandemic, is showcased in the NIHR ARCs: Supporting the fight against COVID-19 (PDF) report  that  brings together case studies demonstrating how all 15 ARCs pivoted their research programmes in response to the pandemic across a range of themes including: children and young people, care homes, equality and diversity, end of life care and workforce planning.

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Executive of the NIHR and the Department of Health and Social Care’s Chief Scientific Advisor, said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic was unlike any health crisis we had experienced for a century. In order for us to tackle the pandemic swiftly and strongly, we needed a collaborative and sustained approach across health and care research that harnessed the power of our collective effort like never before.

“This impressive report sets out how that effort was provided, extending across many different themes, specialisms, and areas of the country. It illustrates how researchers, working together to tackle a common cause, can have such an important impact for patients and the public.”

The publication includes two NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Kent, Surrey and Sussex (ARC KSS)  projects: Beyond Lockdown and Zoom or Room.

Beyond Lockdown

During the first national lockdown, ARC KSS funded researchers at the University of Sussex and the Creative Research Collective to conduct rapid research into the impact of lockdown on care leavers and their support needs as lockdown eased.

The Beyond Lockdown research project included a national survey and Care Leaver Expert Working Groups across Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

In a national online survey, care leavers were asked about the impact of lockdown and their future support needs. This was followed by online workshops, where care leavers in the Kent Surrey and Sussex region reviewed the main points from the survey and used these, along with their own experiences and ideas, to co-produce key messages for both care leavers and also for services to enable them to provide effective support to care leavers during the pandemic.

Co-leading the research are Dr Helen Drew, University of Sussex and Valerie Dunn, Creative Research Collective. Helen explained:

“Even during the best of times, we know that many young people often leave the care system feeling unprepared, financially insecure, in poor mental health and without the support networks most of us take for granted. That’s why when the first lockdown began, we wanted to deepen our understanding about the impact the pandemic and lockdown was having on care leavers.

“Our research focussed on two key areas: the impact of the COVID crisis on care leavers’ mental health and daily functioning and the support care leavers want as lockdown ends.”

Becca Randell, ARC KSS Implementation Manager for Starting Well Children and Young People's Mental Health, has provided an update on the impact this project has made since the research was carried out, she said:

“Following the research, workshops were held and pledges made by key stakeholders.  Two years after pledges were made, we followed-up with stakeholders to gain an update on the pledges as well as identify barriers to implementation.  Some of the examples include local authorities developing education, training and employment workbooks, installation of wi-fi into shared accommodation, setting up peer support virtual drop-ins and face to face events for care leavers.   

"We were delighted to co-produce key messages for care leavers and those working with them, with care leavers from 88 local authorities through the National Care Leavers Benchmarking Forum and work with National Advisor for Care Leavers to ensure the key findings and messages were taken back to Department for Education and National Health Service England).

"Over the next few months we will be running additional focus groups with care leavers to further understand the impact of the research and pledges made to services received by them and their peers”.  

Zoom or Room

A team of researchers at the University of Sussex launched a set of guidelines to help practitioners provide better support to parents and children accessing mental health services online.

The Guidelines for Using Online Therapeutic Intervention follows a research project, 'Zoom or Room' - Online versus in-person therapy? Funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration, Kent Surrey and Sussex and supported by Kent Surrey and Sussex Academic Health Science Network, that took place last year and looked at the effectiveness and guidance for in-person versus online therapeutic interventions.

Professor Nicola Yuill, Professor of Psychology at the University of Sussex, who led the research said:

"The aim of this project was to explore how practitioners and their clients have adapted to online therapy and assessment that had shifted from in-person services, as a result of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns that followed.  We wanted to understand what barriers people faced when accessing mental health services, and how to overcome these barriers to ensure online communications are as smooth as in-person ones.

"The findings reveal how online interventions can be effective with the right tools and capacities in place. We co-produced a set of guidelines aimed specifically at practitioners in mental health, education and social care settings, as well as their employers, that we hope will help them better support parents and their children accessing online services."

Becca Randell, ARC KSS Implementation Manager for Starting Well Children and Young Peoples Mental Health also said:

“We have implemented the research, videos and guidelines through key partners including mental health, education and children’s social care settings.   We have been overwhelmed by the appetite to use these through training and in therapeutic sessions”. 

To read more about these projects please click here.

The publication was led by NIHR ARC East Midlands, with communications support from NIHR ARC West. In the foreword, the ARC Directors write:

“In 2020, we made rapid changes to our research programmes across the ARCs, to inform policy and practice, improve health and care, and deliver national-level impact in this rapidly changing landscape.

“Our expertise in data modelling, multiple long-term conditions, mental health and social care alongside our ability to build and sustain collaborations across the NHS, social care, the voluntary sector and industry, has placed us in a unique position. We have been able to contribute to the efforts to understand the virus and its impact on communities, locally, nationally and globally.

“This publication outlines our response as ARCs, both collectively and individually, to this challenge. It showcases the part we have played in supporting the health and care sector and patients, public and communities. We are proud of our part in lending our expertise to understanding the disease and assisting the global effort to contain it, improving outcomes and saving lives.”

Download NIHR ARCs: Supporting the fight against COVID-19 (PDF).

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