Yesterday my day began in Clerkenwell meeting with the new charity, MQ Transforming Mental Health (www.joinMQ.org).
It is exciting to feel that we might at last be on the verge of seeing a strong charity profile in mental health research in the UK. But more baffling than ever why our existing mental health charities – some of them household names – have abdicated their responsibilities to fund research of patient benefit for so long.
Ah well, watch this space as they say.
The day ended with a get-together of the Directors of the old and new Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care or CLAHRCS for short (thank goodness).
Life really is too short to mess about with long-winded titles like this isn’t and possibly even shorter depending on what part of London you live in!).
There’s a nice sounding symmetry in that brief synopsis of the day. Which made me think of Clark Kent, which made me think of superman and then superheroes. I didn’t quite use that word in my remarks to the CLAHRC Directors last night. But on reflection I wish I had.
CLAHRCs really could be the superheroes in quality improvement for patients in the UK. But they are going to have to do more than just don a decent costume and fly through the air I am afraid.
The existing nine organisations have been one of the unfolding success stories of the UK health research infrastructure in recent years. Selfishly i would say that great examples of public involvement have emerged, brilliant projects involving patients and the public have been completed and rolled-out, wonderful patient leaders have emerged and are now championing research more widely. In some ways they have been talismanic organisations in our community where the advance of public involvement is often unbearably slow.
Widening lens a little soon brings into focus just how critical they are to bedding in research that can improve people’s lives. They are there to tell us what works and what doesn’t when it comes to implementing research and why. Think of a formula one racing car and the pit-stop crew constantly testing in practice which tyres work best on which surfaces in which conditions. It’s this rigorous testing, evaluation and improvement that leads to winning cars and winning teams. It may not be the perfect metaphor for them but that’s how I see the work of the CLAHRCs.
The thirteen new CLAHRCs are certainly going to have to work for their money when they get underway in January 2014. All £124 million of it to be exact. And the expectations on them will be higher than before.
From a patient and public involvement standpoint, and reflecting on my time on the CLAHRC review panel, I think there are five key questions which they will need to answer individually and collectively over the next five years:
- how can they work more closely together to develop their approach to public involvement?
- how well set-up are they to build the right connections locally to assist them in their work (from Healthwatch to patient groups)?
- how are they going to ensure reach across the whole of their local community including seldom heard and/or hard-to-reach groups?
- where’s the innovation in terms of approaches to public involvement and engagement? – how will they support patients to be leaders in this environment?
If there is a criticism we would fire at CLAHRCs it is that, like much of the infrastructure, there is always an air of foreboding that they could turn all academic on us at any moment. It is time to prove us wrong.
Mental health, life expectancy, these are issues that concern all of us.
To coin a phrase: ‘This is a job for CLAHRCs.’