When was the last time that you listened to the radio or read the paper, and didn’t hear or see a piece about the pressures and challenges facing health and care in the UK? Sometimes we can be so bombarded with information about how the system is broken, there is no space to talk about what is working and the opportunities to do things better.

The Health Foundation has an extensive history of funding improvement work, so we’re in the lucky position of hearing more of the success stories. We know there is fantastic work happening all over the UK. The biggest challenge is often around drawing out what makes something successful, in order to share and replicate these ideas and practices in different contexts.

That is why, with the support of NHS Improvement, we are piloting the Q Improvement Labs.

The idea for our ‘Q Lab’ came from the design of Q, a connected community of hundreds of people with expertise in improvement. The Lab will bring people together from across the UK to work and make progress on complex challenges facing health and social care. We will use existing knowledge to:

  • develop an in-depth understanding on an issue
  • conduct further research and analysis
  • generate ideas and test solutions.

We have funding for one year to setup a pilot Lab and test the model in practice. We will explore a single challenge over a 9–12 month period, working with a wide range of people.

What will our first challenge be?

Our first challenge will be:

‘What would it take for peer support to be available to everyone who wants it to help manage their long-term health and wellbeing needs?’

There is lots of existing evidence about the benefits of peer support and some great examples of what’s working. Peer support has been shown to lead to significant improvements for people with long-term physical and mental health conditions. There is evidence that peer support can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness, and that it can help people feel more knowledgeable and confident to look after their own health and wellbeing needs.

Despite this evidence, effective peer support approaches are not widespread. There are questions to answer about:

  • How voluntary organisations and the health services can work together?
  • What circumstances make peer support most helpful for people?
  • How best to make the case to commissioners?

Over the coming year, the Lab will aim to take peer support to the next level.

How will we do this?

We will draw on approaches that are common to other social innovation or change labs, such as designing solutions based on the user, testing new ideas, and working with a diverse group of people. This will be combined with the wealth of improvement and health research that the Health Foundation and others have done on this area. We will also collaborate with the Q community to test new ideas and share learning.

The next phase of the Lab is research and discovery. We want to make sure we have a deep understanding about the current situation, before looking for opportunities to explore and innovate.

From the summer, we will be generating ideas, and simulating and testing solutions that could help to scale up effective peer support approaches. The final phase will focus on how to distil this learning, and then support the continued sharing of ideas into practice. As Q continues to grow, there will be exciting opportunities to explore how knowledge is shared with an active community of thousands of improvers.

We hope that the Q Lab will be a new way of working through some of the most complex health and social care issues. Our pilot year will undoubtedly come with lots of learning about what is and isn’t working, and we look forward to sharing our progress with you. 

Want to be involved?

We want to work with people across the breadth of the UK health and social care system on this challenge, and there will be lots of ways for people to get involved. We hope to find meaningful ways for people to work with us, whether they are able to commit just 10 minutes a week or 10 days a year.

If you have experience and expertise in this topic (or are interested in setting up a lab and what that entails) and you’d like to collaborate with us, please email QLab@health.org.uk and we’ll be in touch. You can also find out more on the Q website and follow the @theQCommunity on Twitter.

Libby Keck (@libbykeckhealth) is Programme Manager for the Q Improvement Lab

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