The treasure trove of community research

Lead Research Clinician, Chantel Ostler shares our approach to ensuring everyone has the opportunity to take part in research no matter where they live, work, play or study.

I heard our Associate Director say the other day that working with community trusts is like opening a treasure trove and you know what, she is totally right. Working with a community trust to carry out research is a treasure trove of opportunity.

Often when you think of research, you may imagine hospital settings or universities and academics. However, one of the many misconceptions about research is that it is only carried out in hospitals.

Community Trusts provide many of the NHS services in our local communities that are not found in your large acute hospital. Things like physiotherapy, community nursing, podiatry, mental health services, rehabilitation and even some GP surgeries. These services can often be found in health centres, community hospitals, or being provided in the patient’s own home. They are spread across large geographical areas with confusing boundaries which often change or merge alongside other community trusts just to keep everyone confused.

This landscape requires innovation from people delivering research in the community. The major challenges we face include: communicating effectively with staff spread all over the place; and reaching patients who might be just as far spread or hidden in their homes or within care homes. More and more community trusts offer their patients the chance to get involved in research projects however, community organisations are often less well understood within the research world.

So, when working within a community trust, we are thrown down the gauntlet when it comes to finding patients; but in true Sherlock homes style, if you get your deer stalker on and learn where to look, there are motivated and interested patients absolutely everywhere. Also, quite often, community patients are not as unwell as patients in an acute hospital, providing a very different population for studies.

Community settings foster a different view of NHS research: one where access to research opportunities are not bound by the building you are in or the speciality the study is allocated to. Research needs to go to where the patient is. We have learnt this lesson and have tried to build on it. In seeking innovative ways to deliver research in the community which focus on taking research to the patient, promote a positive participant experience and highlight community trusts as partners with local community organisations, Solent NHS Trust looked outwards.

Following involvement in a study in 2016 with local care homes, we decided to try and maintain our relationship with them and see if they would be interested in getting involved in more research in the future. Their response was an overwhelming yes and this relationship developed into the Solent Care Home Research partnership (CHRP).

As part of the scheme, Solent’s Academy of Research and Improvement identified projects that the care homes might be interested in, and alongside them assessed the feasibility of carrying out the project. The Trust then undertook all governance and recruitment for the research and the care homes promoted the opportunities to their residents. The partnership developed to include training for care home staff around evidence-based care and the opportunity for patients and staff to contribute to new research developments with Solent’s clinical academics or academic partners.

As new research teams approached Solent to become a site for their study we were able reflect on the success of CHRP and approach different community organisations with the opportunity to get involved with research. The partnership extended to local schools, care agencies, private nursery providers, dental practices, children’s play groups and community groups across health and social care including charity partners.

In 2016/2017 we recruited 208 patients from our community partners for one study. This grew last year to 566 patients across four different studies. This success reflected a real appetite for research within community organisations and led to an expansion of the care home model; the Solent Community Research Partnership was born.

Through these partnerships we strived to develop meaningful collaborations ensuring we were able to meet our partner’s needs as well as the needs of their staff and the people they work with. In local schools we worked alongside academics to deliver lessons about research and microbiology and we funded a Research Dental Nurse to support recruitment from our dental partner. This resulted in bespoke partnerships based on lived experience which evolved dependent on the needs and ideas of us all.

The Solent Community Research Partnership takes health and social care research into the local community, widening and promoting equitable access to research opportunities for local people, and for those seldom heard voices that may not regularly come into contact with our health services. It enables our partners to confidently promote new, safe and ethical research delivered by experienced staff to the people they work with as well as providing unique training and development opportunities to their staff.

The partnership at Solent continues to grow in a diverse way which reflects the organisations present in our local community and the research we are working on. The treasure trove just keeps on growing filled with motivated and knowledgeable staff, interested patients across a plethora of services and innovative practice focused on ensuring everyone has the opportunity to take part in research no matter where they live, work, play or study.

About the author

I am the Lead Research Clinician and support the research delivery team to bring research opportunities into Solent services across Portsmouth and Southampton. I also work closely with clinicians, academics and patients to support the development of new research ideas, gain funding for projects and disseminate important research findings that may have a real impact on the care we provide.