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Forging the pathway towards impactful, inclusive and integrated research in social care

Published: 04 November 2022

Professor Kathy Rowan, Director of NIHR’s Health and Social Care Delivery Research (HSDR) Programme, argues the case for social care practitioners to play an active role in NIHR research funded to help improve social care services.

No one can doubt the huge importance health and social care research must play in our lives.

Research provided a beacon of hope during the darkest of times of the COVID-19 pandemic – in the race to find effective vaccines, therapies and safe environments. Researchers were in the spotlight like never before, with many becoming household names. NIHR’s role in funding, enabling and delivering ground-breaking studies was vital in the response to this huge global challenge.

Today, we must continue to ride the crest of this research wave – ensuring that the power of research continues to impact and improve people’s lives, and health and care services.

My main focus is to aim to fund impactful, inclusive, integrated research to improve health and social care for all.

This research needs to be relevant to those receiving and delivering day-to-day care. This is why the research questions that we address and answer must reflect the needs of those receiving and delivering day-to-day care.

Frontline experience

We know that people working on the frontline, in social care, have the knowledge and experience of how things could be improved for service users, carers and the public. That’s why we need to integrate research into all areas of social care practice and we need your help to do this.

One of our biggest challenges is meeting the rising demands for social care services. Currently, social care services impact the lives of 10 million adults, of all ages, across England. With increasing numbers of people of all ages living with complex long-term conditions even more people will be relying on adult social care services in future.

I’m a strong believer that our hard-working social care practitioners, whether working in home care, residential settings, hospitals, local government social services, or in public, private or third sector - with their unique experience and insight can play a key role in helping research meet the challenges.

To this end, that’s why NIHR’s Your Path in Research campaign is vital in encouraging all those working in social care services to play an active role in informing research aiming to develop even better services.

Commitment to social care

NIHR has emphasised its enduring commitment to social care through its recent name change. Since 2006, NIHR has invested over £200m in more than 470 social care research studies across its portfolio. Shortly before NIHR’s name change, the HSDR Programme also amended its name to reflect its established footprint in social care research and its intent to expand this, over time. Many of our commissioned research calls and our researcher-led proposals are on topics directly related to social care.

Some other key HSDR activities have included investing £7.5m into six projects aiming to strengthen and advance research in adult social care. These projects specifically help build research capacity and research culture in social care services, to identify high priority problems in adult social care and to deliver research to improve care in areas, such as, self-neglect and social isolation. We’ve funded large programmes of work on family group conferences and reviewed existing evidence on strengths-based approaches to social work.

We’ve also launched a new partnership with the Improving Adult Care Together (IMPACT) centre, aiming to bridge the gap between our Programme’s research findings and their translation into practice – in the hope that this will enable social care practitioners and those who use adult social care services to benefit from important research results sooner.

Your Path in Research

Getting on your path in research can start with small steps by:

  • Suggesting important research topics to us, drawing on your experiences in delivering social care services. This is a great way to start and is as simple as filling in an online form.
  • Becoming a peer reviewer - either by helping us to prioritise research topics, ensuring we fund the most important studies and helping to shape the open access reports published by the NIHR Journals Library or by applying to join a funding Committee which will give you insight and input into the research funding process while enhancing your professional development.

NIHR’s Link and Learn match-making service puts social care practitioners in touch with experienced researchers – another opportunity to gain unique insight about working in research, to ask questions and to feel inspired.

I hope that being part of the research prioritisation and funding process will give you opportunities to enhance and improve your career.

And, who knows - perhaps by taking these first, small steps into the world of research, will inspire some of you to take larger steps and apply for some of NIHR’s Career Development Awards and Professional development and training opportunities.

This support also includes NIHR’s Local Authority Academic Fellowship (LAAF) Programme, which supports individuals based within local authority settings to develop as health and social care researchers whilst retaining their existing employment and salary.

Impactful, inclusive, integrated research is vital to social care and, I believe that, together we can achieve much more.

Professor Kathy Rowan, Director of NIHR Health and Social Care Delivery Research (HSDR) Programme

For more information on NIHR’s offering for social care professionals visit NIHR’s Your Path in Research campaign

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