News & Latest 15.05.2023

Bridging the Gap - Celebrating the ARC East of England and Eastern AHSN partnership

Over the last two years, ARC East of England and Eastern AHSN (Academic Health Science Network) have been building their partnership with the aim of addressing the health and care needs of our region and putting our research into everyday practice. In this article, we celebrate the partnership and look at the work that has taken place this year, including the creation of a new resource.

The COVID-19 pandemic escalated a new model of working to support health and social care colleagues. These changes were an opportunity for ARC East of England to review and build upon our implementation strategy and for Eastern AHSN to meet the growing need for evaluations, partly due to the volume of unevaluated innovations that had emerged in response to the pandemic. We have a joint understanding about making a meaningful difference to local populations and health and social care settings, through research.

Eastern AHSN supports us by driving and embedding a culture of implementation across our programmes, implementing our research to encourage its use into everyday practice and building implementation capacity to encourage an implementation focus on the initial stages of a researcher’s career. In April 2022, we formalised this partnership as Dr Sarah Robinson (Director of Delivery, Eastern AHSN) became the ARC East of England Implementation Lead. Since then, we have benefited from a significant number of collaborative opportunities and projects to get the most out of our research.

“We are proud of the close working relationship between ARC and Eastern AHSN which has allowed us to support applied health and care research that responds to the needs of local populations and local health and care systems...Through our collaborations we have been able to harness the impact of research in our region to deliver great positive health impact in areas where it is most needed.”

Piers Ricketts, Chief Executive, Eastern AHSN

Implementing ARC research in the East of England

Since 2022, we have worked on a number of projects together, including the NHS Insights Prioritisation Programme (NIPP), specifically accessing remote monitoring pathways in integrated care systems which aims to evaluate how remote monitoring can track a wide range of conditions at home, and implementing and evaluating the opioid deprescribing toolkit in Great Yarmouth to address the overuse of opioids in chronic pain management. Since 2018, opioid prescribing rates in Norfolk and Waveney have been increasing year on year. In the nine months from April 2022 to December 2022, prescribing has reduced by 2.6%, affecting 594 patients, which is translated to saving 9 lives. In another project, Eastern AHSN and ARC East of England researchers based at University of East Anglia, including Dr Bryony Porter (Public and Community Involvement, Engagement and Participation Lead, ARC East of England), undertook an evaluation of a 12-month pilot of a system wide occupational health and wellbeing provision for primary care staff in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough (September 2021-August 2022). This involved 89 GP Practices, 3 GP Federations and 65 Independent Community Pharmacies taking part in the pilot, covering an estimated 3,036 GP Practice Staff, 330 locums and 512 Community Pharmacists. Subsequently, a report was created from this evaluation. In each collaborative project, it is the role of Eastern AHSN to support the researcher to develop and evaluate a strategy that is translatable to practice and maximises the subsequent impact in the 'real world'. This differs depending on the project from changing policy to improving patient pathways. To encourage efficient communication between both organisations, Eastern AHSN have created a system where ARC East of England researchers can request support for their research. 

“It was a good experience working with Eastern AHSN on the evaluation of an occupational wellbeing provision for primary care staff in our region. The evaluation took place at a time of continued pressure on the NHS due to COVID-19 and it was helpful to work alongside Eastern AHSN to find ways to deliver the project without increasing the demands on the workforce, taking a dynamic approach.”

Dr Bryony Porter, Public and Community Involvement, Engagement and Participation Lead

Embedding a culture of implementation

Eastern AHSN developed a resource (video below) aimed at supporting ARC East of England colleagues with demystifying the meaning of implementation. This video explores what implementation means, how to implement a project or process, what is the difference between innovation, implementation and implementation science and how are they used, depending on the project requirements. This resource acknowledges that simplifying the language will have a tremendous impact on our understanding of implementation and related activities thus making it accessible to all researchers. In developing this resource, ARC Theme Leads and researchers were encouraged to start a conversation about what implementation means to their research projects and at what stage they consider implementation. 

Demystifying implementation resource below, please click to play:

Remote video URL

In addition, ARC East of England and Eastern AHSN identified an opportunity to explore implementation further through a workshop with our Theme Leads. These activities encourage Eastern ASHN colleagues and ARC Theme Leads to proactively identify projects that could benefit from Eastern AHSN implementation expertise and navigate how we can prioritise projects with the most to gain from Eastern AHSN input.

“Our partnership has allowed us to utilise the expertise of both organisations and to place applied research at the forefront to meet the everchanging needs our region.  I have really enjoyed being more involved in the ARC projects and working alongside theme leads over the past year. I look forward to supporting ARC research teams to ensure that projects can be implemented when there is emerging evidence of positive impact."

Dr Sarah Robinson, Implementation Lead, ARC East of England & Director of Delivery, Eastern AHSN

Building implementation capacity

Eastern AHSN are also supporting us with our flagship fellowship programme. The fellowship is aimed at professionals from clinical and non-clinical backgrounds with the purpose of developing knowledge and skills to implement evidence-based improvements in health and care settings, for the benefit of the population. Eastern AHSN have sourced implementation experts from around the world to teach the fellows about different methodologies and putting theories into practice. Members from our latest cohort attended a session led by Professor Per Nilsen from Linköping University, Sweden, who introduced implementation theories, models and frameworks; and demonstrated how they can be used through five common implementation phases. Each month a different workshop will be facilitated for the fellows, and our ICB Innovation Leads.

Dr Sarah Robinson (Implementation Lead, ARC East of England & Director of Delivery, Eastern AHSN) states “The fellowship programme is of particular interest as it supports diverse projects that are responding to localised challenges in a way that aligns to the core work of Eastern AHSN.”

Next steps

As we build upon our partnership, we are thrilled to welcome Ben Jackson from Eastern AHSN, whose role will be to support and bridge our organisations. Ben has had an expansive career in project management and development, so he will be bringing his wealth of knowledge to this role. Eastern AHSN and ARC East of England will continue to work on research together to address health inequalities across the East of England. An upcoming project that both organisations are working on is the palliative and end-of-life care research theme to develop and disseminate a guide outlining available palliative care services across the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough ICS area.

“It is beneficial for us to work in partnership with Eastern AHSN because they bring a different perspective to the science and art of implementing research evidence. They also bring colleagues from a wide range of disciplinary and professional backgrounds, which energises our conversations about implementation.”

Professor Wendy Wills, Director of NIHR ARC East of England

Professor Wendy Wills (Director of NIHR ARC East of England) continues “I am always delighted by their enthusiasm for discussing implementation and its place on the research – knowledge mobilisation – implementation – evaluation – impact pathway. We all learn from each other and are motivated by a common desire to use the best evidence to benefit populations and services across the East of England.”