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Major rise in people taking part in NHS mental health research in Berkshire

Date: 22 June 2017

A Berkshire NHS trust has more than tripled the number of people taking part in mental health studies.

Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust recruited 1,568 people to 25 studies supported by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network in the 2016/17 financial year, placing it third out of 224 NHS organisations as ranked by number of people recruited.

This is compared to 441 people to 16 studies in the previous financial year, 2015/16, when Berkshire Healthcare was ranked 27th.

Dr Gwen Bonner, clinical director for research, Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Thanks to the help of University of Reading research professor Cathy Creswell and her popular study into childhood anxiety, we have seen a significant rise in participants to studies this past year.

“Research is vital to develop treatments for those living with a range of illnesses.

“Here at Berkshire Healthcare we value collaborating with other organisations to ensure that research plays an important part in providing the best care and better longer term outcomes for patients.”

Among the trust’s studies is a trial into the genetic and environmental causes of mental illnesses for people and their relatives.

The DNA Polymorphisms in Mental Illness (DPIM) trial is studying DNA in participants’ blood for genetic causes and the serum in their blood for causes related to the immune system and any other causes.

A DNA polymorphism or mutation is a variation in the DNA chemical sequence, which can increase the risk of disease.

Participants, who must have a diagnosis of mental illness, provide a small blood or saliva sample and permission for researchers to access family, medical and psychiatric history.

They also complete a short questionnaire on their childhood events, family histories, any historic drug and alcohol use and medication use.

Reading participant Stephen Sharp (pictured), who has schizophrenia, said: “I was asked to volunteer for the study by my community psychiatric nurse. After taking part, I feel I understand my mental health a lot better.

“I was diagnosed towards the end of 1984 but I was not told what the diagnosis was. I thought I had depression. At the time, I felt I was not kept informed.

“I know that my grandmother was in a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s and I wonder if there are links between our mental health conditions.

“Schizophrenia for me means hearing voices and believing people can read your mind.”

People with schizophrenia may not always be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality. This may manifest itself in hallucinations and delusions and changes in behaviour.

The 59-year-old, from Reading, said: “The researchers were very helpful and they explained the research in great detail so that they knew I understood the study well.

“The researcher visited me at home to ask me the questions, so the study didn't require much of my time. I am more than willing to participate in future research.

“I would urge others to go ahead and take part in mental health studies. It is vital that we can understand it better through research.”


Clinical studies officer Emma Donaldson said: “Although I was aware of the various symptoms involved in mental illness, the interviews with the participants about their symptoms has shown me the degree these can vary from person to person, despite having the same disorder.

“Mostly this study has highlighted to me the complicated nature of mental illness and illuminated the great number of difficulties there are in treating them, which has made me recognise the need for even more research in this area.

“The trial will enable researchers to identify some of the genetic biomarkers involved in mental illness, and potential environmental triggers.

“The data collected could therefore lead to a better understanding of the causes and triggers of mental illness and hopefully result in better, more targeted treatments.”

The study began recruiting in 2011, and will continue until late 2017. Results are expected by 2019.

It was supported by the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) Thames Valley and South Midlands, an NHS-funded body which works to ensure research can take place in the health service. It is funded by the Medical Research Council.

Another CRN-supported study being managed by Berkshire Healthcare is the Accessing Child Anxiety Treatment (A-CAT) trial to help children with anxiety disorders.

Parents and teachers are being surveyed about their experiences of accessing support for children with anxiety disorders.

Professor Cathy Creswell, an NIHR research professor from the University of Reading, is the chief investigator on this study, which is being run through schools in Berkshire.

She said: “The A-CAT study has helped parents feel clearer about their child’s need for support; it has helped them through directly signposting them to resources that they can use at home, and they have felt that they are helping others through their experiences.

“We are hearing about barriers that parents face in identifying anxiety problems in their children, knowing how to seek help and feeling confident to do so, and then actually accessing help from professionals.

“Another positive is that our recent studies have allowed us to build good relationships with schools and GP practices who are keen to take part in further studies that we have planned over the next few years.”

The A-CAT study began in November and will close to recruitment on 31 July 2017.

For Berkshire Healthcare studies seeking participants visit or email

Research helps develop better treatments to improve NHS care to save lives and improve quality of life.

This could be trials of a new drug in hospital or something as simple as a patient completing a questionnaire about their condition.

Healthy people are also often needed to take part in trials so they can be compared to people with a condition that is being studied.

Patients are encouraged to ask their doctor about research opportunities and view trials seeking volunteers at The UK Clinical Trials Gateway

  • Summary:
    Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has more than tripled the number of people taking part in mental health studies over the past year. Stephen Sharp, who has schizophrenia and took part in a study with the trust, said that he now understands his mental health a lot better because of it.
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