24 April 2012

Breaking new ground with CLAHRC

An Interview with Professor Sue Mawson

In 2008 the government launched the Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) initiative. This important scheme, representing the government’s largest programme of investment in applied research to date, aimed to improve patient care by finding innovative approaches to the self-management of long-term conditions through applied research and translation of research findings into practice.

South Yorkshire is one of nine pilot regions that successfully applied for funding for a CLAHRC, and since then a talented and hard-working team, hosted at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and other NHS and Higher Education organisations across the region, has been working on a wide variety of projects aimed at improving the lives of patients. The team has focused on three key areas: chronic conditions, application of technologies, and achieving the translation of knowledge into practice.

Professor Sue Mawson is Director of CLAHRC SY, and has recently been appointed as Professor of Health Services Research at ScHARR. She was responsible for bringing CLAHRC SY together, and has been providing leadership to the CLAHRC team since it began. She is proud of its achievements: “I’m very pleased with the success of CLAHRC so far. We’ve seen some really excellent initiatives and are one of the leading CLAHRCs in the country according to government metrics – grant capture, publications and links to industry.

“Before CLAHRC, there was no clear mechanism for translating research into practice in the field of long-term conditions. Bringing a CLAHRC to South Yorkshire has helped to fill this gap and to make real progress for patients.

“We’ve made significant headway in all of the three key areas we work on, but a few projects really stand out. One example is a piece of work we are doing on nutrition, called Enhancing the Quality of Oral Nutrition Support (EQONS). Through this we are enhancing the quality of oral nutrition support provided to patients with long-term conditions on acute wards, using the implementation of a nutrition screening tool called MUST+.”

Professor Mawson puts CLAHRC’s success down to positive collaboration. “Our joint working has been essential – between the NHS, universities and industry in particular. We’ve been able to co-produce evidence across the region and our programme of activities, and this has proved to be very fruitful. The support of all of our partner organisations has been crucial and valuable.

"When the original call for CLAHRCs came out, we already had good academic and clinical leaders. When we were successful in becoming a pilot region, these leaders started working together more closely. We have a great amount of expertise in Sheffield, and CLAHRC provided the opportunity to draw this together, although there is still much to be done.”

CLAHRC is continuing to build on its links with its partners, particularly in higher education. Professor Mawson’s new appointment at ScHARR is likely to be instrumental in achieving these stronger links. “It’s very important that we establish firmer links between the Trust and ScHARR by building on existing research activity and collaborations, and I will be working hard to do this. ScHARR can play a crucial role in the process of taking knowledge into practice and getting the right evidence in place.”

CLAHRC is now at a major crossroads in its development, waiting for the call to come out for funding post-2013. Since 2008, it has received a total of £22m, and further funding will be essential to build upon and expand the work that is currently underway.

“We are determined to carry on the good work we’ve started,” says Professor Mawson. “We want to ensure we remain at the forefront of applied research and further funding is a must if we are going to do this. The call from the NIHR for funding post-2013 will come out in a few months, and we’re busy preparing our bid.”

So what of the future? Professor Mawson is clear about her vision. “In the years ahead, we are going to be more ambitious, developing applied research in new areas, such as health economics. We want to link to the Olympic legacy work, which should bring great benefits to Sheffield, and we want to increase our grant capture. Ultimately, we want to build an even greater national and international research profile for the Trust and for South Yorkshire.”


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