News & Latest 23.03.2023

How NIHR ARCs rose to the challenge of COVID-19

A national publication highlighting how National Institute for Health and Care Research Applied Research Collaborations (NIHR ARCs) rose to the challenge of COVID-19 launches today, the third anniversary of the first UK lockdown.

Vital work from across the ARCs in response to the pandemic is showcased in NIHR ARCs: Supporting the fight against COVID-19 (PDF), including ARC East of England's projects.

The publication brings together case studies demonstrating how ARCs pivoted their research programmes in response to the pandemic. It showcases work across a range of themes including children and young people, care homes, equality and diversity, end of life care and workforce planning.

In Spring 2020, care homes across the United Kingdom were facing an unprecedented level of uncertainty from fears caused by the COVID-19 pandemic with little care home specific guidance. Researchers from our Ageing and Multi-Morbidity theme who are a part of the Cross-ARC Care Home Network responded to issues identified in a WhatsApp group, which was formed by care home managers. This group also included researchers from ARC East Midlands and ARC Yorkshire and Humber. Utilising the care home knowledge within the ARC East of England and ARC Kent, Surrey and Sussex, researchers created the Top Tips for Tricky Times which aimed to respond to questions and concerns raised by front-line care staff during this time, whilst being in line with COVID-19 policy and practice guidelines. Since April 2020, the Top Tips for Tricky Times has been downloaded 550 times (approximately) and it is being used both nationally and internationally, including being translated into Spanish. This project highlighted the importance of working with those who live and work in care homes to co-design and co-produce research and knowledge pathways. Also, it demonstrates that to have a real impact on care practice, research and evidence, research needs to be responsive and address what matters to care home staff (1).

One of the strengths of the ARCs is that by working together they achieve national impact, sharing learning, reducing duplication of effort and crucially for care homes, giving voice to a sector that is made up of multiple providers. The ARC Care Home Network was able to mobilise during the pandemic to identify and respond to issues that were affecting how older people accessed care.

Professor Claire Goodman

Another ARC East of England project during the COVID-19 pandemic explored the use of videoconferencing and communication technology by health and social care services. Particularly as these communicative methods were not commonly used prior to the pandemic. This project reviewed the existing evidence and interviewed health and social care professionals (e.g. general practitioners and social workers) to understand the barriers and facilitators to its use. This project exposed the need for further investment in digital infrastructure for adequate information management between health and social care organisations (2). For more information, please see the summary.

The challenges that health and social care sectors faced during this period were key points of discussion at this year’s Cross-ARC Care Home Network event, which was co-led by ARC East of England.

The pandemic presented new opportunities for using video consultation with care homes but we need to ensure this technology is personalised to residents, protects and shares data, and considers the care home setting.

Dr Krystal Warmoth

The publication was led by NIHR ARC East Midlands, with communications support from NIHR ARC West. In the foreword, the ARC Directors write:

“In 2020, we made rapid changes to our research programmes across the ARCs, to inform policy and practice, improve health and care, and deliver national-level impact in this rapidly changing landscape.

“Our expertise in data modelling, multiple long-term conditions, mental health and social care alongside our ability to build and sustain collaborations across the NHS, social care, the voluntary sector and industry, has placed us in a unique position. We have been able to contribute to the efforts to understand the virus and its impact on communities, locally, nationally and globally.

“This publication outlines our response as ARCs, both collectively and individually, to this challenge. It showcases the part we have played in supporting the health and care sector and patients, public and communities. We are proud of our part in lending our expertise to understanding the disease and assisting the global effort to contain it, improving outcomes and saving lives.”

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Executive of the NIHR and the Department of Health and Social Care’s Chief Scientific Advisor, said:

"The COVID-19 pandemic was unlike any health crisis we had experienced for a century. In order for us to tackle the pandemic swiftly and strongly, we needed a collaborative and sustained approach across health and care research that harnessed the power of our collective effort like never before."

“This impressive report sets out how that effort was provided, extending across many different themes, specialisms, and areas of the country. It illustrates how researchers, working together to tackle a common cause, can have such an important impact for patients and the public."