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Mental Health Specialty Profile



Why you should deliver mental health research in the UK

The NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) delivers mental health commercial and non-commercial research. Expertise within the Mental Health Specialty spans primary and secondary care, with participants recruited from a multitude of settings. We recruit people for studies across all mental disorders: depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, addictions, eating disorder and self-harm, as well as healthy participants. The specialty leads research in both the NHS and social care settings involving service users in project development and research design as well as project participation. This is highly valuable for industry partners especially in relation to design and delivery of clinical trials.

The CRN provides researchers with the practical support they need. It provides research delivery staff on the ground as well as bringing together communities of clinical practice to provide national networks of research expertise. The Mental Health Specialty is one of 30 such communities and is made up of leading research-interested clinicians and practitioners at national and local levels. Our job is to ensure that the mental health studies we support are delivered on time and reach their recruitment targets.

We can provide


The Mental Health Specialty group consists of representatives from all regions across England and the devolved nations. These are highly engaged consultants and clinical academics from top UK universities. Our Principal Investigator (PI) training programme encourages the development of local mental health clinicians to become research PIs for studies. Our clinical studies officers work across Local Clinical Research Networks to create a highly trained flexible workforce.

We are keen to be involved with the planning of studies at the earliest opportunity, and to develop ever stronger relationships with commercial partner study teams. We encourage organisations to attend our specialty group meetings to allow co-development of feasibility and increased accessibility of industry partners to local PIs.

Access to patients

NHS funded hospitals and community care within the UK facilitate rapid assessment, recruitment and effective follow-up for mental health research. We have the expertise and infrastructure to recruit to complex studies requiring participants who may be hard to reach, acutely unwell, or who lack hope and motivation and whose recovery is fragile. We aim to expand access to research for vulnerable people often excluded from aspects of society. We place importance on direct links with patient groups and local resources; and we develop tailored communications to make research opportunities quickly and widely known to potential participants. We have the expertise to disentangle research and clinical governance requirements of cross-organisational working. In particular, this enables recruitment of participants  with anxiety and depression in primary care and other settings.

Study delivery

For the seventh year running, over 80 per cent of non-commercial studies have been delivered on time and to target. In 2018/19, over 80,000 participants were recruited into mental health research studies, a 63 per cent increase on the year prior. These comprised a wide range of interventional and observational design methods. Each study is monitored and performance managed in direct partnership with the Mental Health Specialty group: a system which has led to excellent study delivery.

We have expertise in recruiting to a diverse range of studies and across age ranges from infancy and across settings. For example, during 2018/19 the specialty supported 106 studies recruiting children and young persons.


The Mental Health Specialty has developed close links with key stakeholders and clinical researchers to input into the delivery of studies and influence the mental health research agenda.

The specialty has developed a network of Children’s and Young Persons (CYP) Champions, to assist with the design and delivery of research involving young people and their family members.

We have also established a longstanding partnership with The McPin Foundation and MQ: Transforming Mental Health to recognise researchers’ involvement of  service user and carers in mental health studies.

Our close links and access to clinical research facilities across the UK provide privileged access to high resolution neuroimaging and specialist clinical facilities. These working relationships help us meet delivery needs flexibly and jointly.

Case studies:

SCENE (Improving quality of life and health outcomes of patients with psychosis through a new structured intervention for expanding social networks)

SCENE is a research programme including different studies, with the common aim of improving social networks and quality of life of people with schizophrenia. Social isolation is a central problem in these patients’ lives. However, current interventions provided by community mental health teams have failed to prevent, or overcome their social isolation.

The SCENE programme included a survey of patients with psychosis (550 participants), focus groups with patients, carers and clinicians (82 participants), case studies (41 participants) and a feasibility trial (48 participants) to refine a newly developed intervention. This intervention is currently being tested in a trial.

CRN involvement allowed us to include additional areas such as Oxford, Somerset, Cornwall and Leeds in the survey and the trial. Reaching out to different social contexts and backgrounds is crucial for this research and will increase the scientific value of our findings.

Substantial impacts on patients’ health and on the NHS are expected. If our intervention is effective in reducing patients’ social isolation, this is likely to improve their quality of life and health outcomes. Enabling patients to utilise social resources for support, instead of primarily relying on professional help, may also reduce the costs for the NHS.

WORSHIP II (Women Offenders Repeat Self-Harm Intervention Pilot II)

Conducted across three female prisons in England, the WORSHIP study piloted an evidence-based intervention Psychodynamic-Interpersonal Therapy (PIT) aimed to reduce self-harm and suicide risk in women prisoners. The CRN supported recruitment of 127 participants assisting the study to deliver to time and target.

For the first time, WORSHIP sought to provide access to psychodynamic psychotherapy for highly disadvantaged women in prisons across England. The way in which it achieves this is unique: the intervention and its ability to be delivered within a prison setting, and by prison staff, was co-developed throughout. This meant that stakeholders, including, for the first time, offenders were involved at every stage of design, delivery and dissemination. Led from Manchester, WORSHIP has found innovative solutions to the challenges and costs of recruiting trained personnel to deliver psychological therapies across prisons. WORSHIP does this by working with trainee psychiatrists and trainee psychologists. This has benefitted the clinical psychology and psychiatry training programmes by:

  1. providing trainees with a new skill
  2. including training and supervision as well as
  3. providing cases for trainees who had been on a waiting list

WORSHIP II also secured accreditation from the Royal College of Psychiatrists for the trainees undertaking PIT in women offenders in prisons.

Following the positive outcomes of this innovative pilot, a full scale trial, funded by NIHR NETSCC is being delivered across 80 per cent of the women’s estate. To date, the CRN has been vital in supporting WORSHIP’s success by streamlining effective study set up, governance and delivery to time and target.


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