The pursuit of knowledge and discovery has always been an intrinsic human characteristic, but when new knowledge is curated and put in the right hands it has the power to bring about high value change to society. Here at the Health Foundation developing and sharing evidence on what works and why is central to our work to bring about better health and health care for people in the UK.

Generating new knowledge and insight

We have a long-standing commitment to research. As I write this, the Health Foundation is currently supporting or working on over 160 research projects. And since 2004 for every £3 of grant funding we have awarded, around £1 has been invested in research and evaluation. All of this work has developed our understanding of how to improve aspects of health and health care.

But how do we go about this? Well, we generate new knowledge and insight through a blend of in-house and externally commissioned analysis and research, innovative researcher-led open calls, by supporting individuals through research Chairs and Fellowships, and through rigorous evaluations of our improvement work, as well as evaluating the work of others.

And we don’t stop there. We try to ensure that our researchers are also well connected to their research colleagues, policy makers and practitioners working in the health service. We hold safe-space networking and knowledge exchange events, share new research widely and support researchers to develop relationships and new connections with policy makers and health care professionals. We also draw on independent expertise to ensure our research is well grounded in policy and practice.

One example of this is our Efficiency Research Programme Advisory Group which provides expertise and guidance on efficiency across the health sector to seven research teams we are funding. This month its chair Professor Peter Smith, explains why efficiency is such an important subject area in health and social care and outlines some of the challenges that researchers face. Our aim in proactively supporting research in these ways is to share new knowledge and insights quickly and in ways that can be applied by those who make decisions or deliver care.

Informing policy and improvement work

We are proud to see all our effort having impact. Over the last few years we have actively contributed to effective policy development nationally and seen an increase in the number of areas where our views and expertise have been used.

Our research has contributed to the Five Year Forward View, formed the basis for the key recommendations on safety measurement in the Berwick Review of Patient Safety in England, and also underpinned funding increases for the NHS in Wales, to name but a few.

Our research and evaluation places a strong emphasis on improving health service delivery and patient care, and our recent work to advise on the national evaluation of complex new models of care is bearing fruit. Our Improvement Analytics Unit is providing rapid feedback on the impact of new care models, allowing those delivering frontline improvements to make real-time course correction.

As we look to a future with a healthier population, we want decision makers to have evidence that is useful and that reflects the nature of the health challenges we face today. We are working with Dr Harry Rutter on ways to overcome the research challenges of evaluating complex systems in population health.

Taking the long view

But often impact can take time. Our research and evaluations into patient safety, and person centred care have been active for more than a decade. When we began working in these areas it was first necessary to convince people of the need for change before action could be taken at scale. Now we’re pleased to see that both patient safety and person centred care are embedded in the understanding of high quality care, and national policy reflects some of the insights and approaches we have pioneered with the NHS. In both areas we have been the chosen partner for system-wide implementation plans, for example the Q initiative, which is connecting people with improvement expertise across the UK, and Realising the Value, which builds on what we know about person centred care.

Our research investment is also helping to build capability and capacity within the research community. Our funding has led to academic career progression, provided stability to enable research teams to grow, and allowed multi-disciplinary teams to carve out a reputation for high-quality research in their particular areas. In some instances our funding has even been leveraged in ways to establish financially sustainable research units.

Plans for the coming year

This year we are going even further to promote research capability, but this time within the NHS. Our exciting new programme, Advancing Applied Analytics, launching in June, will support NHS analysts to develop and test novel analytical applications that have the potential to contribute to improvements in patient care and population health.

And, in six short years our contribution to building a stronger scientific underpinning for quality improvement has culminated in the establishment of a ground-breaking Improvement Research Institute, the first of its kind in Europe. Led by Professor Mary Dixon-Woods, the Institute will strengthen the evidence-base for how to improve health care, growing capacity in research skills in the NHS, academia and beyond. I look forward to seeing how the institute generates new and exciting areas of research and enables wide participation in large scale research programmes.

2017 is going to be particularly exciting as we will be launching a number of researcher-led open calls over the year.

Our Insight 2017 programme is currently open, until 25 July 2017, for ideas to support research that can advance the use of national clinical audits and patient registries to improve healthcare quality.

Later this year we will also be launching a second round of our Behavioural Insights researcher-led open call. Behavioural insights research is gaining widespread traction as a complementary policy lever in tackling the many challenges in improving health and health care. We are thrilled to be a leading funder in this area working alongside experts such as the Behavioural Insights Team. Hannah Burd tells us more this month, explaining how small behaviourally informed changes can lead to significant reductions in inefficiency and waste in health care.

So there you have it, our research in a nutshell.

And, what excites me the most about these 160 or so research projects is the impact that we hope to make in improving health and health care over the next decade. So, keep watching this space and please do get in touch if you would like to know more.

Darshan Patel is a Senior Research Manager at the Health Foundation

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