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The research community’s ability to rapidly respond and directly inform policy was demonstrated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with rapid outputs informing the UK operational response.
There is now an opportunity to mobilise the research teams and data infrastructures established across the UK, to provide a real-time response to the significant winter pressures challenges faced by the health and care system. Speed and ability to deliver by 31st March 2023 will be a key consideration. As well as maintaining an open, transparent and team science approach, analysis teams will be required to deliver insights as rapidly as possible.
The NHS and social care are expected to face more severe pressures than normal this winter due to interacting (compound) risks. Professor Sir Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, summarised the principal compounding risks for winter 22/23 to be:
- The interaction of any influenza and COVID wave will depend on whether they are concurrent (leading to a higher, but shorter peak) or in series (smaller peak but more prolonged ‘winter’ season)
- Other viruses and respiratory bacterial disease, particularly RSV in children, and norovirus which may affect health and social care settings resulting in increased attendances and nosocomial spread
- Absenteeism of key staff due to sickness or caring responsibilities will put additional pressure on health and social care services
- The impact of fuel price inflation and other cost of living pressures.
The following research questions are indicative and are listed to provide examples of the kind of research questions DHSC and NHS policy makers are interested in. Research proposals which answer different questions are also welcome, if they can contribute to the prioritised improved public, patient and/or service outcomes detailed in the call specification.
Who is most at risk of poor health/hospitalisation due to the risks that may arise this winter?
- Do specific combinations of risk factors place individuals more at risk of poor health outcomes?
- What are the consequences of compound risks (for e.g., pre-existing health conditions and the cost-of living crisis) faced by individuals this winter on morbidity and mortality outcomes? Can we predict what these consequences could be?
- Can at risk groups of individuals be identified for targeted interventions?
- Are risk factors for Flu, RSV and COVID, and other winter infections the same?
Can we predict what the pressures will be on primary care, hospitals, and social care?
- Identify how the system is working and where the pressures are across primary, secondary and social care (for e.g., using regional or ICS level data).
- What key indicators could be tracked to indicate the system is at risk of becoming overwhelmed and to allow actionable intervention?
What is causing the pressures on the health and social care system, so interventions can be developed and targeted more effectively?
- What are the local drivers of pressures on the health and social care system such as GP appointment waiting times, ambulance waiting times, waiting lists for elective surgery, delayed discharge, re-admissions and capacity in social care?
- What factors are associated with higher performing health systems (for e.g., ICSs where delayed discharge is not a significant issue)?
What works to reduce poor health outcomes and healthcare needs arising because of compound risks this winter?
- What is the impact of preventative interventions (such as extending free school meals, insulating homes, modelling the impact of energy price cap set at different levels or targeted vs untargeted support for energy bills, increasing groups eligible for COVID vaccines, use of community warm spaces)?
- What treatment interventions could reduce the secondary burden caused by winter illness (such as preventing CVD events in people who have recently had COVID, or the impact of long COVID)?
- What health system interventions effectively help staff and organisations work together to address these pressures (such as: workforce interventions to improve wellbeing, morale, recruitment, and retention; reducing avoidable admissions; improving patient flows; enabling smart discharge; and support for social care)?
Applications are invited from groups across the UK health data infrastructure that can generate rapid insights to address these research questions via a rapid, competitive funding call.
The lead applicant should be based at an eligible research organisation. These include:
- Higher education institutions
- Approved independent research organisations or NHS bodies
- Government-funded organisations
- Institutes and units funded by research councils
Given the limited duration of funding (to 31st March 2023) all submissions must be able to demonstrate that they can safely and securely conduct and complete analysis by end of March, and evidence that they have all the required capability in place at the point of submission (including relevant data sharing agreement/s, data sets, linkages, infrastructure and people).
The call is now open for applications and will close at 17:00 GMT on 5 December 2022. Decisions will be communicated within two weeks, and projects should commence as soon as possible in January 2023 and complete by 31st March 2023.
For further information please download the call specification and proposal submission form here. All proposals to be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by 17:00 GMT Monday 5 December 2022. Submitted proposals to be no longer than 4 pages. For queries/clarifications please email email@example.com
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