Building roads to success in mental health

Clinical Studies Officers (CSOs) working within Leicestershire NHS Partnership Trust for the Mental Health Research Network (MHRN) describe one route to acquiring valuable research skills

The Mental Health Research Network (MHRN: see www.mhrn.info) is at the heart of mental health research throughout England. It supports NHS mental health trusts and industry to conduct large-scale, multi-site research. Working for the MHRN provides an opportunity for budding psychologists to develop applied research skills in practical settings.

The MHRN is one of the topic-specific networks of the National Institute for Health Research and the UK Clinical Research Network. The aim of the network is to provide the NHS infrastructure with support for both non-commercial and commercial large-scale research in mental health and social care. Working as Clinical Studies Officers (CSOs) at the MHRN, we take responsibility for the day-to-day local management of the projects.

Leicestershire NHS Partnership Trust (LPT) currently has a portfolio of projects that includes:
I    Anticholinesterase inhibitors in moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s disease. This class of drugs decreases breakdown of acetylcholine (a chemical messenger in the brain) and can be used in conditions where there is an apparent lack of this messenger transmission.
I    The effectiveness of cognitive therapy in reducing distress and the risks of acting on command hallucinations, where individuals hear and sometimes obey voices that command them to perform certain acts. The hallucinations may influence them to engage in behaviour that is dangerous to themselves or to others.
I    The cost effectiveness of supplementing standard care with an intervention for carers of people with eating disorders.

The successful setup of these and other MHRN activities has enabled LPT to become one of the lead recruiting sites nationally on some of the adopted studies.

So what is the role of the Clinical Studies Officer? We actively promote research studies to clinicians, service users and carers, working in collaboration with clinicians to screen and recruit participants onto the studies. An important part of our role is to obtain informed consent from willing participants. Once consent has been agreed, we may conduct a range of psychological assessments on behalf of the research team, as well as providing support and guidance on ethics.

The Integrated Research Application System  is an important resource in our role. It is a single automated system for applying for the permissions and approvals for health and social care/community care research in the UK. It enables researchers to enter the information about a project once, instead of duplicating information in separate application forms, and helps us ensure we meet regulatory and governance requirements.  

A stepping stone?
Becoming a clinical studies officer is rapidly become a choice for many psychology graduates as a stepping stone into a career in psychology. The role offers the chance to develop applied clinical and research skills, whilst working closely with clients with mental health difficulties. The MHRN is a rapidly growing network, which means that there is an increasing number of CSO roles emerging.

CSOs tend to have a background in psychology or a nursing qualification in mental health. Once in this role some of the mandatory training includes:
I    good clinical practice;
I    information governance;
I    informed consent; and
I    Mental Health Act training.

CSOs undertake continuing professional development in research skills, along with specialised training for individual studies. These may range from recruitment strategies and understanding ethical considerations, to developing clinical skills. Study-specific groups meet regularly to share best practice, problem-solve and communicate current issues, such as recruitment targets or substantial amendments to the research.

An important element of the role is to work within a multidisciplinary setting that includes psychiatrists, psychologists and other health and social care professionals. The role also helps develop scientific knowledge, excellent communication skills and an empathic understanding of mental health difficulties, whilst gaining insight into therapeutic interventions.

Shaukat Desai, Rumun Sandhu, Sarah Lockley are all CSOs for the MHRN’s Heart of England Hub. Dr Trevor Friedman is the Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist for Leicestershire Partnership Trust.

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