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MRI Scanner at OHBA © MRI Scanner at OHBA

Nearly five years since it was established, we are now approaching renewal for the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), a partnership between Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Oxford.

This will be an opportunity to build on what has already been achieved, expanding and developing our research themes, increasing opportunities for patient and public involvement and creating improved mental health treatments and services.

The innovative Brain Health Centre opened this year. Developed with the involvement of members of the public with lived experience of memory problems, the centre is a combined clinical and research service which has the potential to revolutionise NHS memory services. A six-month pilot is under way involving 150 patients. By embedding research in the NHS service, the Centre aims to help prepare the health system for the future of dementia treatment and prevention. This ambitious approach could become a model that can be adopted throughout the NHS.

Professor Clare Mackay said:

‘This is the culmination of a huge amount of collaborative effort from the University of Oxford and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, to create a truly integrated clinical research service.’

BRC research this year has adapted significantly both to focus on COVID-19 and to allow for research studies to continue despite lockdowns and delays. Researchers within the Informatics and Digital Health theme, led by Professor Andrea Cipriani, have responded to the pandemic on multiple projects. One project summarised the best available guidance on benzodiazepines and z-drugs (zopiclone and zolpidem), clozapine treatment, digital technologies and telepsychiatry, end-of-life care, inpatient wards, lithium treatment, and long-acting injectable (LAI) antipsychotics. Freely available on the web, the evidence-based guidance has been translated into French, Turkish, Italian, Japanese and Chinese.

Another digital project focused on the evaluation and implementation in the NHS of telepsychiatry and remote consultation during the pandemic. Collecting information from clinicians, patients and mental health services across mental health Trusts in Oxford and Southampton, the study now involves an additional four Trusts in Veneto and Lombardy, the two regions in Italy which have been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new evidence-based mental health treatment programme called SHAPE Recovery, which helps frontline healthcare workers at risk from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, has been developed by researchers in the Precision Psychological Therapies theme led by Professor Anke Ehlers. It provides 1:1 support, including fast-track access to PTSD or depression treatment. The programme is working with 3,300 frontline healthcare workers across England and 8,000 London Ambulance employees and staff.

Associate Professor Jennifer Wild, Programme Lead, said:


‘If needed, SHAPE could be incorporated within NHS services within 12 to 24 months. The aim is to support staff to stay well, to recover if unwell, and to continue to be able to work, providing much-valued patient care.’

The BRC patient and public involvement (PPI) team is designing, delivering and evaluating projects to widen participation, involvement and engagement in research. Its focus includes reaching people with intersectional vulnerabilities, such as religious minorities, BAME communities, socio-economic groups, and LGBT+, and include different age groups.

When in-person research with patients at the BRC’s mental health clinics was suspended, the NIHR Oxford Clinical Research Facility (CRF) became the main location for the vaccine trials. It helped with the delivery of the Urgent Public Health England (UPHE) first COVID-19 vaccine trial in the UK, which was delivered at sites nationally and internationally. More than 900 participants came through the doors for Phase I/II of the study. The CRF is being used to support another COVID-19 vaccine UPHE trial, alongside the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust (OHFT), which will continue for a year, with a team of 100+ drawn from the Oxford Vaccine Group, the CRF, OHFT Research & Development team and the Clinical Research Network. So far, nearly 500 participants have taken part.