Since it launched in early 2017, the Q Improvement Lab (Q Lab) has been developing new ways of making progress on complex health and care challenges. Focusing on a single challenge over a year, the Lab brings people and organisations across the UK together to share their expertise and experience, build collective understanding of the topic and develop and test ideas.

The Lab has recently come to the end of its pilot year, which looked at how to make peer support more widely available. During the project, we uncovered some examples of great work happening throughout the UK and surfaced some of the key challenges and tensions that need to be worked through to deliver high quality peer support. The Q Lab also generated new insights from a large-scale survey on how people make decisions on peer support. As a result of this project a grant has been awarded to support the development of a new Evidence Hub for peer support – an idea developed during the Lab process in collaboration with the charities National Voices, Mind and Positively UK.

The Lab also learned a great deal about how to undertake collaborative problem solving – our evaluation yielded invaluable insights, allowing us to understand how the Lab is best placed to support change. 

The Lab’s next project

Building on learning from the first project, we’re excited to share with you that the Q Lab’s next project is in partnership with Mind – the mental health charity. Starting in September, our work will focus on supporting people with a long-term physical and mental health problem, specifically the experiences of people living with both mental health problems and persistent back and neck pain, and how care can be designed to best meet their health and wellbeing needs.

Why this topic?

Mental health problems and back and neck pain are important issues in their own right. We know that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year and we also know that back pain affects around a third of the UK population.

There is a strong correlation between back and neck pain and mental health problems, yet little is known about the relationship between the two issues. Back pain in people with symptoms of depression has been shown to be 50% higher than in those without symptoms of depression. Research also shows that people with chronic lower back pain have been shown to have a significantly higher frequency of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and sleep disorders, compared to those without lower back pain.

Traditionally, we think of pain as a signal transmitted from a part of your body to the brain -when you take a sip of very hot tea, you feel pain in your mouth. This understanding serves well for certain types of pain, but it is only a small part of the story when pain is long-lasting. The link between mental health problems and persistent pain is much more complicated and does not seem to come down to a simple cause and effect relationship

We plan to collaboratively undertake research on this issue, working closely with those who have experienced these conditions as well as those working in health and care. There are some examples of great work happening to understand and treat physical health conditions and mental health problems holistically, and we will shine a light on existing good practice. We will then build on this, working with people across the UK to develop and test ideas that could improve care for people living with multiple conditions.  

Working with Mind

The Q Lab and Mind partnership is an exciting one. Mind, as a leading voice in mental health, bring topic expertise as well as the opportunity to connect with their extensive network of local Minds (a network of over 130 charities that deliver local mental health services to anyone who needs them). When combined with the wealth of experience and expertise from Q, a growing community of people with experience and expertise in improving health and care, we think we are in a great position to support progress.

Contribute and get involved

We will be working closely with health care professionals, policymakers, those working in quality improvement, patients, people with lived experience, local Minds and Q members to take this work forward.

  • If you are interested and have lived experience or expertise on the topic, there are several ways you can get involved:
  • If have thoughts about living with or providing care for people with persistent back and neck pain and/or mental health problems we’d love to hear from you: complete this short 10-minute survey
  • If you’re interested in getting involved with the Lab’s work over the course of the next 12 months – perhaps contributing to the research or testing improvement ideas in practice, you may want to become a Lab participant - an informal group of collaborators that are involved throughout the project.

Tracy Webb is Head of the Q Lab at the Health Foundation.

Further reading

Q Lab – an idea blossoms

This year we have launched the pilot Q Improvement Lab. The idea emerged from the Q Initiative – a community of people involved in improvement across the UK. We spoke to Tracy Webb, Head of Q Labs,...

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