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ESPAG Public minutes - July 2021


09 November 2021


1.0 July 2021


Evidence Synthesis Programme Advisory Group Meeting

Tuesday 13 July 2021


Dr Phil Alderson, NICE Representative
Professor Andrew Booth, Academic Advisor
Professor Martin Burton, Cochrane UK
Professor Jo Lord, Academic Advisor
Dr Jo Morrison, Cochrane Review Group Representative
Professor John Powell, Programme Deputy Director
Dr Karla Soares-Weiser, Cochrane Editor in Chief
Professor Ken Stein, Programme Director (Chair)
Dr Ligia Teixeira, Social Care Representative
Mrs Alison Turner, NHS Representative
Mr Malcolm Turner, Public Representative
Dr Vivian Welch, Campbell Collaboration
Professor Olivia Wu, Complex Reviews Support Unit


Ms Judith Brodie, Cochrane
Ms Emma Small, Welsh Government


Dr Sofia Araujo-Betancor, NETSCC
Ms Sally Bailey, NETSCC & TARs Representative
Mrs Ekta Gupta, NETSCC
Mr Rob Squire, NETSCC


Mr Michael Bowdery, Welsh Government
Dr Neil Hawkins, Complex Reviews Support Unit
Dr Gail Johnston, Health and Social Care, R&D, Northern Ireland
Dr Kay Pattison, Department of Health and Social Care
Dr Julie Simpson, Scottish Government Health Directorates

Welcome, introductions and apologies

KS welcomed everyone to the meeting and the Group introduced themselves.

Apologies were noted as detailed above.

Membership updates

KS welcomed Ligia Teixeira and Alison Turner who began their tenures on ESPAG as social care and NHS representatives respectively.

The Group was also advised that Matthew Ridd’s tenure ended in February 2021, Ken Stein and John Powell’s tenures will end in August 2021.

Minutes of 4 December 2020 meeting (paper 01-21)

The minutes of the previous meeting were agreed and accepted as an accurate record.

All the actions from the previous meeting are either complete or are in hand.

Future Cochrane funding model (paper 02-21)

KS introduced this item with the aim to have an open discussion about the future Cochrane funding model.

KS summarised the discussion, confirming that clarity is needed on eligibility and that timelines will be reviewed to ensure that groups have time to come together and prepare for a bid.

NICE/Cochrane prioritisation of topics

PA introduced this item. NICE is currently considering how best to keep its clinical guideline programme up to date, whilst ensuring that its commitments to updating high priority areas more rapidly are met.

KS advised that Cochrane has been very effective in contributing to guidelines and wished NICE and Cochrane all the best for their new project.

Cochrane Reviews of NICE Priority – Initiative close, reflections and future

PA provided the Group with a summary of the CRNP scheme, now that it has come to an end. Eleven reviews have been commissioned through the scheme to date and the last batch of reviews has now been delivered. The scheme was well received by all stakeholders involved and the reflections from NICE are as follows:

  • Overall, the scheme has proved to be a very effective mechanism in identifying priorities and for them to be delivered by Cochrane on time and to budget
  • NICE has identified ways to work with Cochrane more effectively, particularly around topic alignment
  • Authors from Cochrane have also presented work to NICE committees which has been very helpful and positive.
  • Trust has been built between the two organisations by reviews being delivered on time
  • It was easier to communicate with Cochrane centrally rather than communicating with 50 different CRGs

The Group agreed that the CRNP scheme provided good value for money as the groups were only given small incentives to carry out the research. This is something to keep in mind for future reference.

KSW advised that these reviews are of very high priority for Cochrane and are highly cited in the Cochrane Library.

Priority III - Implications of the results of their James Lind Alliance priority setting exercise on rapid reviews for NIHR and methodology research

AB introduced this item. The Priority III study is managed by Evidence Synthesis Ireland, working with the James Lind Alliance to establish priorities for rapid reviews. Ten topics have been prioritised from a list of 140 topics after voting and stakeholder consultation. The results are being published on Twitter, with one question being posted per day, starting from 13 July 2021. Posts can be found via the @EvidSynIRL Twitter handle and #PriorityIII.

OW advised that Evidence Synthesis Ireland is likely to be investing in methods research through “a study within a review”. The HTA Programme is also considering allocating funding for this work. The Group agreed that it would be sensible for the Evidence Synthesis Programme to co-ordinate with all of these initiatives to ensure that there is no overlap.

Cochrane Review Group annual reporting summary 2020/21 (paper 03-21)

SAB introduced this item. Following discussion at previous ESPAG meetings, CRGs were asked to complete a significantly shorter version the annual report template, with a focus on prioritisation. Key points highlighted from the report summary included:

  • All CRGs have reported a combination approach to prioritisation, all using both analytical and consultative methods to ensure full consideration of all stakeholder’s needs. Some CRGs undertook a comprehensive priority JLA exercise while others undertook a light-touch approach
  • The total of all reviews produced under infrastructure in 2020 is 293, up by about 4% from last year’s figure of 281
  • The average number of all reviews (new and updates) produced by each Group in 2020 is 12, the same as last year
  • The average time from protocol to review publication has not changed compared to last year
  • Eight CRGs have increased their progress scores compared to last year
  • Cochrane Reviews continue to have an impact on guidelines and clinical practice – both nationally and internationally

The Group asked for more information on the impact of COVID-19 on the work of the CRGs. SAB advised that COVID-19 has impacted the number of reviews produced and there have been several extension requests for the 2019 Incentive Awards and 2016 Programme Grants. SB advised that some CRG staff also moved to frontline roles during the pandemic which impacted the production of reviews. KSW advised that Cochrane is a part of the organising committee for the COVID-End project and it has been exploring the learning so far, especially in terms of duplication of effort.

KSW also highlighted that CRGs have published more reviews in 2020 than in 2019.

Evidence Synthesis Programme Grants 2021 - Terms of Reference (paper 04-21)

RS introduced this item, explaining the purpose of the Terms of Reference document and highlighting the main changes. These included:

  • NETSCC has launched a new management information system called REALMS. All future applications will be submitted via REALMS
  • Changes made to the membership section include:
    • To recognise that applications focusing on social care topics are now accepted, a social care representative has been added as a scoring member.
    • LT will take on this roleAs social care applications must be linked to a Campbell Collaboration Group, a non-scoring member from Campbell now attends. VW has taken on this role
    • The NHS representative vacancy has now been filled and AT will take on this role

RS will clarify reference to Social Care within the ‘Remit’ section of the document.

Providing all of the above changes are incorporated, the Group was happy to sign-off the Terms of Reference.

Evidence Synthesis Programme Grants 2021 - 2020 call outcomes and progress

RS introduced this item. The 2020 Programme Grants call closed in November 2020 and 17 applications were received with 16 of those within remit. The ESPG Commissioning Committee meeting was held in January 2021 and 11 applications were funded of which two applications are from Campbell and the remaining nine are from Cochrane. The start dates of the grants are staggered, with the majority of them starting between July and September 2021. The duration of these grants is 18 months and they should complete between December 2022 and February 2023.

Evidence Synthesis Programme Grants 2021 - 2021 call update

Post meeting note: The timing of the 2021 call did not fit with the 2023 CRG contract break point, and the call was subsequently withdrawn.

Evidence Synthesis Programme Incentive Awards 2021 call paper (paper 05-21)

SAB introduced this item. Incentive Awards will receive the same amount of funding as previous years (£100,000), with an expectation to fund between 10-15 applications. Successful applications will receive between £5,000-£10,000 per award. Each group can nominate up to three titles. The delivery of reviews will be 9-12 months from the start date and payment is made upon completion. The ESP has also removed the option for extension requests as this defeats the object of incentivising completion.

The call will open in July 2021 and close in September 2021. Successful awards will start on 1 January 2022. 

Cochrane UK update (paper 06-21)

MBu provided an update on the activity of Cochrane UK for the last 12 months. Key achievements included:

  • Online training has been successfully delivered to authors and various communities such as Information Specialists
  • Cochrane UK and Cochrane Ireland’s annual symposium, Virtually Cochrane, was held with nearly 400 registrations, 14 live sessions and 52 speakers
  • Evidently Cochrane had 2.2 million-page views which is a 140% increase from last year. A number of special series have been published including Contemplating Cancer and My Endometriosis Question. The latter included a Q&A session on Twitter
  • The number of times Cochrane is referred to in the media is increasing with 13,500 mentions worldwide including 2,000 in the UK. The majority of those were COVID-19 related
  • Cochrane UK has carried out online teaching sessions on evidence-based medicine in secondary schools and had also been engaging with medical students

NIHR Complex Reviews Support Unit update (paper 07-21)

OW provided the Group with an update on CRSU activity for the first 12 months of its 17-month no-cost extension. Key points highlighted from the report summary included:

  • During this period, the CRSU has continued to engage with and provide support to the NIHR evidence synthesis community and to active Programme Grant holders
  • The Unit has continued to provide training to the Cochrane Community via online webinars, both independently and in collaboration with the Cochrane Learning Live Programme.
  • Development continues on the following apps: MetaInsight, MetaDTA and Covid-19 MetaInsight

All CRSU researchers are in the process of being or have been awarded NIHR Doctoral or Post-Doctoral Fellowships.

OW queried if the Unit can continue to call themselves the Complex Reviews Support Unit (CRSU). SB and KS agreed that it will be good to continue the legacy, providing reference to the NIHR is removed. 

Wider Cochrane updates and update from Judith Brodie, Interim Chief Executive of Cochrane

JB has recently been appointed as the Interim Chief Executive of Cochrane and was invited to attend ESPAG to introduce herself and to provide the Group with an outline of her planned activity and the challenges facing Cochrane. JB’s presentation highlighted the following challenges:

  • Cochrane has grown significantly over the years
  • Cochrane is committed to Open Access
  • Review production needs to be streamlined and faster
  • Increased competition highlights the importance of demonstrating Cochrane’s value and impact

KSW provided the Group with an update on wider Cochrane news and initiatives. Updates included:

  • Reflections on the challenges for review production and proposed steps to begin the changes needed
  • The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2020 impact factor has increased from 7.89 in 2019 to 9.266 in 2020
  • Research integrity – Cochrane has published an editorial policy on managing potentially problematic studies to accompany implementation guidance
  • Cochrane Convenes – This is a four-day meeting to discuss lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic to help plan future health emergencies. Recommendations from the meeting will be used to inform sessions at the World Health Assembly and in Cochrane’s COVID-END work 

Update on Campbell activity

VW provided the Group with an update on Campbell activities. Highlights from the presentation included:

  • A new Coordinating Group and three subgroups have been established, focusing on child welfare, ageing, sexual orientation and gender identity, and nutrition and food security
  • The Campbell Library continues to grow year-on-year and the most recent journal included 10 reviews, its highest ever
  • Campbell was accepted into the Emerging Sources Citation Index in March 2021 and aims to get an impact factor score soon
  • Campbell has also been a partner in the COVID-End project from the start and two Groups have funding to respond to societal consequences of COVID

KS thanked VW for her update and was pleased with the work that Campbell is carrying out. LG highlighted that Campbell has been very supportive, particularly in helping develop evidence tools.

Any other business, meeting summary and close

KS invited members to present any other business. The following items were raised:

ES provided an update on Health and Care Research Wales’ COVID-19 Evidence Centre. The Centre launched on 1 March 2021 and will provide evidence on policy and practice within short timescales of between two to three months. The Centre will work closely with the technical advisory group within the Welsh Government. All outputs will be open access and available through the Wales COVID-19 Evidence Centre website.

On behalf of ESPAG, SB formally thanked KS for his contribution as ESP Director over the last three years and wished him well for the future.

Date of next meeting: Friday 3 December 2021 between 10:00-14:00, virtually, via Microsoft Teams