UCL and King’s College London are leading the establishment of a new policy research unit, the NIHR Mental Health Policy Research Unit, which will bring mental health researchers, clinicians, service users and carers closer together. The main aim of the unit is to provide research to inform policy makers.

Commissioned by the Department of Health through the NIHR’s Policy Research Programme following an open competition, the policy research unit will be hosted at UCL, jointly led by UCL and King’s, alongside researchers from City, University of London, Middlesex University and Centre for Mental Health. It is funded at a cost of £5m for five years.

“Across the health care system, we know more about what works than what we actually put into practice, as policy makers don’t always have the latest research findings readily available. We are putting together a responsive core team, and building up a broader network of experts who will ensure that policy makers will have access to the most comprehensive and up-to-date evidence to guide their plans,” said Professor Sonia Johnson (UCL Psychiatry), the director of the unit.

The research unit will be focusing on prevention, access and quality of mental health care, by conducting research on the impact of existing policies and to guide future plans, as well as by providing expert advice in a timely manner. The unit will offer bespoke analyses to help guide mental health policy, drawing on existing data sets to rapidly collect evidence, and by synthesising established findings. The unit will also work with a broader network of experts in the field, and identify researchers who can be available at short notice to offer up advice or to take on short-term projects.

“Our network of experts includes economists, big data analysts, and service user researchers, to name a few, so we will be well placed to look at mental health policy research from many different angles,” Professor Johnson said.

“We are pleased that the Department of Health are funding the NIHR Mental Health Policy Re-search Unit,” said Professor Paul McCrone (King’s College London), co-director of the unit. “This presents a unique opportunity for the academic community to work closely with clinicians and service users in influencing and supporting mental health policy over the coming years. A major strength of the unit is its multi-disciplinary focus, bringing together quantitative and qualitative research, implementation science, and my own field of health economics.”

People who have used mental health services, some of whom are professional researchers, will be part of the team and will contribute their perspectives on equal terms. The unit’s research priorities will be set by the Department of Health and affiliated bodies, and the research team will be collaborating with all stakeholder groups to determine how to address them.

The unit is committed to maintaining a national focus thanks to a steering group hailing from across the country and by monitoring for regional inequalities, alongside other inequalities of all kinds.

Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive at Centre for Mental Health, said: “We are delighted that Centre for Mental Health is a part of this unique collaboration. High quality research that informs policy is vital to help us get closer to equality for mental health. We will seek to ensure that the research carried out through the unit has a major impact on policy, practice and ultimately people's lives.”

Health Minister, Lord O’Shaughnessy said: “Mental health is a major priority for this Government. We are working hard to put mental and physical health on an equal footing and have put record funding in mental health services. This new research unit will bring together a team of high calibre researchers to help government make the right, evidence-based decisions for people with mental health issues.”

Professor Alan Thompson, Dean, UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences, said: “We are proud and delighted to host the NIHR Mental Health Policy Research Unit at UCL. Mental health is a key strategic priority of our faculty and is an area in which we have many exciting new initiatives. We are committed to making a positive impact with our research and improving the lives and prospects of people affected by mental health disorders. The unit will be receiving valuable input from people across the university, including some of world’s foremost mental health researchers.”