Evidence gathering in social care research. Are we looking in the right places?

John Woolham is Senior Research Fellow at the NIHR Health & Social John WoolhamCare Workforce Research Unit (HSCWRU), King’s College London. John reports from a Health Services and Delivery Research (HS&DR) Programme seminar, 15 May, which he attended on behalf of HSCWRU. (463 words)

The HS&DR is part of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and is responsible for funding research in health and social care settings. Its programme aims to produce rigorous and relevant evidence to improve the quality, accessibility and organisation of health and social care services.

The purpose of the seminar was to enable HS&DR to better understand the needs of evidence users, with a particular focus on social care, and how the HS&DR programme can respond to these needs.

The seminar was opened by Professor Jo Rycroft-Malone, who described NIHR and the HS&DR programme, and provided a more detailed overview of the seminar’s purpose and agenda which was to better understand the perspectives on evidence use for social care; emphasising the importance of ensuring that HS&DR funds research where it’s most needed.

Following this, short presentations were made by staff leading three NIHR Evidence Review teams, at the universities of York, (Alison Eastwood) Sheffield (Andrew Booth) and Exeter (Rob Anderson), describing and demonstrating how they can respond to requests for evidence synthesis. One speaker suggested that in social care, evidence might not always be focused on the right things and that there was a need to know the motivation behind any request for review: as another speaker put it, making sure the questions are right as well as the answers by revising and refining these before commencing the review helps to ensure that any review is likely to be useful for end users.

Professor Fiona Verity (Professor of Social Work and Social Care, Swansea University) then discussed how the NIHR and the social care community can interact. A key role for NIHR/HS&DR was described as getting messages across, and the importance of engagement with stakeholders.

The final speaker was Karen Cook, Head of Social Work and Social Care, Central and North West London NHS who spoke about what social care needed from research. She discussed the need for social work professionals to have either critical appraisal skills in order to understand and apply research, and the need for some to be able to conduct their own research. She also described the process developed by the James Lind alliance and other stakeholders in a recent topic prioritisation exercise, and the need to engage with what is not known.

The discussion that followed focused on comparisons between social care and health research cultures. Attention was drawn to disparities in funding, differences in infrastructure and resources, and a tendency for each to privilege particular kinds of research methodology – and some of the consequences this might have. There was broad agreement that there were real opportunities for the two research communities to learn from one another.

John Woolham is Senior Research Fellow at the NIHR Health & Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London.