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NIHR Research for Patient Benefit funds £2.5m of new social care research and announces annual social care funding calls

Published: 08 August 2019

The NIHR Research for Patient Benefit programme (RfPB) has funded £2.5 million of new research into social care, bolstering NIHR’s commitment to improving social care through high quality evidence and building capacity for research in this field.

The new funding was driven by RfPB’s 2018 funding call for research focused on adult social care, which received a great response from the research community. 

Twelve new projects have been funded, ranging from work to find the best ways to care for people in their own homes, to online tools aimed at teaching adults with learning disabilities how to read. Research proposals and funded projects were submitted from leaders in the field to early career researchers.

Following this successful call, the NIHR will be investing in future social care research with annual funding calls via the RfPB programme, under the banner of Research for Social Care (RfSC). The RfSC call, planned to launch in September, will have a budget of £3m. 

The call will be supported by launch events for potential applicants hosted by the NIHR Research Design Service. A draft specification document for the call is available, with full details to be confirmed on launch in September.

The funding is part of NIHR’s ongoing efforts to build and improve social care research in England. In November 2018 the organisation announced that it will fund a third phase of the NIHR School for Social Care Research, with just under £20 million committed over 5 years. This includes £1.8 million specifically targeted on building research capacity, with PhDs, career development awards and internships planned

Minister for Care Caroline Dinenage said:

“Social care research has the power to transform people's lives by building our knowledge of which types of care best support our health, happiness and independence. The NIHR's investment in innovation will help create a sustainable social care system for the benefit of everyone - from older people to unpaid carers to those with learning disabilities of any age. 

"There are some fantastic projects already underway, and I'm looking forward to seeing what brilliant ideas are brought forward in this annual funding call, which will significantly boost social care research in this country."

Lyn Romeo, Chief Social Worker at the Department of Health and Social Care, said:

"Access to high quality research and evidence is essential if we are to understand the approaches and interventions that work and why. As social workers and social care professionals, we must always remember to challenge ingrained thinking and consider how we can improve our decision-making and the habits and systems we take for granted in our everyday work.

"This research programme and the new annual funding call are a real boost for social work and social care, and I look forward to seeing these innovative projects lead to insights and knowledge that will improve people's lives."

Professor Martin Knapp, Director of the NIHR School for Social Care Research, said:

“NIHR is investing in research skills and researchers, as well as working with local authorities and social care providers. As the leading funder of social care research, NIHR has an enormous amount to contribute.”

A selection of the newly-funded projects are summarised below.

Stacey Rand, University of Kent - £150,000

Stacey Rand's research is helping to find out what types of services in the community are most useful in helping people with dementia to live in their own homes. The researchers are testing a questionnaire they've designed that carers can fill out on behalf of a close friend or relative with dementia, to help understand how different services affect their lives, as well as a version for carers themselves. They want to make sure the questionnaires are easy to complete and collect the right information - helping to understand which services help these people the most. 

Dr Louise Denne, University of Warwick - £250,000

Dr Denne and her team have developed an online tool to help teach adults with learning disabilities how to read. They hope that this could help them to be more independent and have a better quality of life - for example by being able to carry out everyday activities without the help of someone else. They are testing the tool in a small group of adults, to help them design a larger study to find out how well it works. 

Professor Chris Hatton, University of Lancaster - £350,000

Adults with learning disabilities often live in residential facilities or in supported living. Many want to be more independent, but at the moment it's not clear what support is most cost-effective and which is best for these adults. Professor Hatton wants to find out more about the quality and costs of these two types of support, by talking to adults with learning disabilities and their families and working with different service providers in England. The research aims to gather information and evidence to help healthcare commissioners provide services, and help families lobby for the best support. 

Dr Phillip Whitehead, Northumbria University Newcastle - £150,000

Some people who need care at home may need more than one person to help them move around - for example getting out of bed and into a chair. 'Double-handed' homecare packages offer this help, but there isn't much evidence on how well this care works or how it should be monitored and reviewed, for example when it's put in place after an accident or illness. Dr Whitehead's research is looking at the best way to review this type of care, so that councils can make sure they are providing cost-effective support for people living at home.    

Professor Jeremy Dale, NHS South Warwickshire CCG - £345,000

Many older people depend on 'informal' carers who aren't health professionals, and these carers don't always get the support they need. Professor Dale is researching an online tool called the Care Companion, which is designed to help informal carers to cope with their caring responsibilities and get support and resources when they need them. The tool is already being used in Warwickshire, and the research will find the best way to make this tool available to more carers, and show how it could help improve the health and social care system in England. 

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