ENRICHEnabling Research in Care Homes
Public involvement in social care: reflections on a new report
Zoe Gray is the Associate Director of Involvement, Participation and Engagement at the NIHR Centre for Engagement and Dissemination (CED); and Tina Coldham is a Public Adviser to NIHR CED. They are both champions of NIHR’s mission to effectively engage and involve patients, public, carers, service users and communities in all parts of the research journey.
In this blog Zoe and Tina discuss the publication of an NIHR report highlighting recommendations in social care research. They urge researchers, research commissioners and managers to play a part in improving public involvement in social care research.
When we think of research we often think of clinical research and the effort to eradicate disease. However, awareness about the importance of social care is growing amongst the wider population. Not only does good social care keep older people living happier and healthier lives longer, it enables children and working-age adults with social care needs to take part in society and fulfil their potential.
What are the differences between social care and health care?
There are subtle differences in how we view and talk about people engaging with social care compared to clinical care. For example, people are called ‘service users’ of social care. This places people on a more equal footing with services, whereas in clinical care the term ‘patient’ is sometimes seen as a more passive recipient of them.
Moreover, social care research has tended to value participatory and user-led research more than clinical research has. It has long been a testing ground for different approaches to involving people in improving their care, encouraging co-production, user-led and multidisciplinary knowledge to be a key part of delivering and shaping services.
It could be said that patient and public involvement in clinical research has a lot to learn from service user involvement in social care research. This is despite social care research not always benefiting from the same level of investment or capacity building. However, this is changing at pace.
What is changing?
NIHR has identified building capacity and capability in social care research as one of its areas of strategic focus in the newly published Best Research for Best Health: The Next Chapter. In addition, the new UK-wide Saving and Improving lives: The Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery implementation plan, also provides a timely reminder of the importance of “strengthening public, patient and service user involvement in research”. The report on social care research also lays out some of the actions NIHR has taken in this area in it’s foreword.
What does the new report say?
It couldn’t be a better moment for researchers and those commissioning and managing research to engage with, and help drive forward, the recommendations made by the Social Care Institute for Excellence in a newly published report focused on public involvement in social care. The findings speak to four main themes, which are detailed more fully in the report:
- Continuing to embed strong public partnerships in NIHR social care research
- Needing to champion Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
- Engaging communities and supports user-led research
- Providing accessible, practical and relevant resources
These themes have already guided NIHR in making progress over the last year, but there is much more to do. For example, as part of our role coordinating and providing leadership on public partnerships work, NIHR CED aims to curate accessible and practical resources that help researchers, service users and carers to understand what is possible in involvement and co-production, including in social care settings
Improvements in public involvement are always achieved by team effort at all levels. We would encourage everyone working in, or connected with, social care research to share this report, to engage with us about its findings, and to make a personal pledge to act upon the learning.