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How research can improve outcomes for older people in receipt of care and the frontline care workers

Jill Manthorpe, Prof of Social Work, King’s College London

Social care research in England is going to receive up to £20 million new funding through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) School for Social Care Research.

This is a real boost for social care research. It’s my view that this level of investment will make a real difference to the evidence base for social care practice. Whatever the resources for social care, we will always need to know that our money, time, effort and human commitment is going on the best possible care options.

Training for researchers wanting to find out more about the best ways to improve social care practice is going to be part of this funding. We need to know what works in social care, and this involves knowing what things cost, how services are experienced, and what is fair and ethical. The word ‘outcome’ sums up many of these things. All these questions need people with different research skills to work together and we must be able to draw on internationally leading research. We want more care homes and hospices to be involved in research; joining the ENRICH network of ‘research ready’ care homes is a great way to do this https://enrich.nihr.ac.uk/

The evidence around social care is patchy but people will need better and more effective services in the future. Working at King’s College London we have been able to use this funding to undertake influential studies. If you have taken part in any of these – many thanks. They range from studies of adult safeguarding and the risks of personalisation to a ground-breaking investigation of what happened to homeless people five years after they have been rehoused. We have found out that telecare may be effective but for some people it is not available if they do not have a family carer to be ‘first responder’. This week we launched a call for practitioners working with people with dementia to complete a short survey about making decisions to move to a care home (please email me if you would like to complete this survey). Such research increases the evidence – not just in dry academic articles but feeds through to resources such as Alzheimer’s Society fact-sheets, carer advocacy, and guidelines for social care workers. When frontline care workers get involved in such studies they have a real opportunity to share their experiences and views.

Research does not itself improve outcomes for older care users – but it can help practitioners and services deliver care which is likely to improve outcomes and to stop doing things that make no difference.  Research takes time to reach frontline care workers but in England we are now seeing more care workers being confident in their roles because research had proven that they are doing the best thing (for example, cognitive stimulation therapy or carer support programmes). But research is not just for practitioners and managers – increasingly people using social care services want to know what works. Family carers also want us to explore real-world problems and possible solutions. This is a good time to be involved in social care research – come join us. 

Jill Manthorpe is Professor of Social Work at King’s College London and Associate Director of the NIHR School for Social Care Research from May 2019




Please note: The NIHR launched a campaign on 15 November 2018, to raise awareness of why social care research, just like healthcare research, is so important: www.nihr.ac.uk/socialcare

Edel Harris





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