Research with care shaping the NHS

Blog from Professor Ed Bullmore, CPFT Director of Research and Development

Professor Ed Bullmore Looking forward to another 70 years of the NHS, it’s a great time to reflect on the role of research in improving health services and advancing care and treatment for the future.

As the impact and awareness of mental health disorders increases rapidly, research is essential to speed up progress towards finding effective treatments. We need to learn more about disorders to fight them and support people to recover from potentially distressing and disabling conditions.

Research will help us solve some of the biggest health challenges facing the NHS and develop even better services in future, targeting resources to improve patient care and outcomes.

This is an exciting and critical time for changing perceptions of mental illness and transforming the way we treat it, with research directly informing new models of care. Identifying the risk genes for conditions like depression and exploring the links between mental and physical illnesses which occur together will help us unlock new therapies. Fully integrated care will be an important way forward to tackle the biological, psychological and social processes that cause illness, coordinating care around individuals rather than separate services.

Looking back over the NHS timeline, some of the key milestones in understanding and treating mental illness include:

•  1959: the Mental Health Act prioritised community care and decreed that patients with mental ill health should not be considered any different from people with physical illnesses one of the first steps in revolutionising mental health treatment and care. 

• 1960s: CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) was pioneered in the 1960s and later waves of this psychological treatment help NHS patients manage negative thoughts and behaviours.

• 1980s: MRI scans became a reality for clinical research and have since proved to be a very important research tool, demonstrating the subtle changes in the brain that are associated with mental health disorders like schizophrenia and depression.

 • 1983: the Mental Health Act is updated to protect patients’ rights and consent for treatment.  

• 1990s: SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) expanded the range of treatment options for depression and mood disorders.

 • 2006: the NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme begins to provide easy access to talking treatment for people suffering from depression and anxiety.

Looking forward
CPFT and our local, national and global research partners are involved in some major areas for further work, which we hope will reveal new treatments and solutions to support people using our services.

• Biological and genetic links between mental and physical health -  Biodep is a large, collaborative project exploring the effect of inflammation on the brain. Many studies are starting to re-examine the mind-brain-body relationship to understand the true nature of mental illness, and how it should be treated.

• Better use of data- at CPFT we are running projects to develop how we analyse service users’ data to spot new patterns, assess treatments and health outcomes. Our CRATE system helps to match suitable research participants to studies quickly and safely to speed up the research process and support staff and patients to engage in improving care and treatment.

• Prevention and early intervention- dementia studies at the Windsor Research Unit and the Diamond Lewy project are looking into how to identify these neurodegenerative diseases at the earliest possible stage, and how to treat them to slow down or stop progression after memory loss has been diagnosed.

• Digital technology - has the potential to empower people and provide convenient, accessible therapies at home, supporting self-care and management of conditions. A number of research projects are looking into wearable devices and virtual reality solutions to help people manage symptoms and reduce distress in challenging environments.

• Bringing researchers from different professions together- and encouraging more health professionals into research, is vital to explore the full range of clinical and social factors that contribute to a successful recovery. Research should be accessible to all staff to run projects and investigate observations from the frontline. CPFT staff are engaging in quality improvement and development projects at all levels to test new ways of working and improve care.

• Increasing patient and public participation- at CPFT we are committed to involving people with lived experience to help design research studies and support them to contribute ideas and their own observations for further investigation. The people we care for can steer researchers in the right direction and share insights into living with illness to help us improve their experience, encouraging new ways of thinking and inventions to support them.

Our research at CPFT would not be possible without the volunteers and service users who help us, and the partners we work with, to set up our studies and projects. Every year, more than half a million people take part in health research across the NHS. More work is needed to ensure everyone we care for, and every member of NHS staff, is empowered to set priorities for future research, and help shape projects that will improve care, now and in the future. 

Further information:
• Find out more about how to shape health research and get involved.
• Contact CPFT’s Windsor Research Unit to learn more about our studies in dementia, schizophrenia, anxiety, autism, depression and a range of other mental and physical conditions.
• Search for UK clinical trials and projects near you via the Clinical Trials Gateway

As a patient

As a patient, relative or carer using our services, sometimes you may need to turn to someone for help, advice, and support. 

Patient Advice and Liaison service  Contact the Trust