Innovation in Policy, Systems and Services

Increasing evidence shows that current approaches to preventing or responding to mental health difficulties could be more effective. We need better interventions to improve outcomes for those struggling with their mental health, however it is also vital to develop the structure and design of mental health services in order to deliver effective support for both young people and adults. To do this we need to respond to the wider factors, such as living and working environments, which affect people’s lives and opportunities.

Please contact the Innovation in Policy, Systems and Services Research Theme Leads for further information:
IMH Research Theme Lead - Dr Sarah-Jane Fenton
MH Research Theme Co-Lead - tbc

We're making an impact...

We're bringing together experts from different disciplines, people with lived experience of distress and care-providers to help inform our research. We aim to develop, promote and evaluate current innovations in policy, systems and services in order to reduce both the occurrence and the impact of mental health difficulties. The goal of our research is to maximise people’s chances of regaining a satisfying and productive life following an adverse experience.


Our current research

‘Evaluating the Use of Patient Experience Data to Improve the Quality of Inpatient Mental Health Care’ (EURIPIDES)

Key people: Dr Sarah-Jane Fenton

As part of a collaborative study funded by NIHR, a team from the Universities of Birmingham, WarwickSheffield and Queen Mary University of London, together with the Mental Health Foundation interviewed staff and patients across NHS mental health trusts in England and found that few are collecting patient feedback to actively improve services. Of those trusts that do, only a quarter put their feedback to good use but, still only used it to create environmental rather than change to care services.

A new policy briefing into the study has found that service improvements should never be led by complaints alone; but by listening to what works well for patients, NHS trusts have a real opportunity to empower both staff and patients.

Read the policy briefing

Watch the video to learn more about the impact of the study

Open Dialogue: Development and Evaluation of a Social Network Intervention for Severe Mental IIlness (ODDESSI)

Key people: Professor Jerry Tew, Dr Sarah Carr

This is the first randomised trial of a radical new approach to delivering mental health services that has been developed in Finland – and is funded by NIHR.  Jerry Tew and Sarah Carr are leading on the qualitative evaluation of the experience of individuals and their family and social networks, and on the involvement of peer practitioners in the delivery of the model.

Learn more 

Care Act: building social resources for people in the community

Key people: Professor Jerry Tew,  Dr Karen NewbiggingDr Sarah Carr

The introduction of the Care Act 2014 places a responsibility on Local Authorities to promote people’s wellbeing and to prevent, reduce or delay their need for social care. This study, funded by the Department of Health Policy Research Programme is investigating different initiatives by which Local Authorities are seeking to build the capacity and capability of communities, families and individuals.  

Avoidable Harm in Mental Health Social Care (AHMHSoC) Study

Key people: Dr Sarah Carr

The question this user-led research is investigating is ‘how do mental health service users in England conceptualise and experience social and psychological ‘avoidable harm’ in social care and what are their recommendations for its minimisation in practice?’ Sarah Carr is Principal Investigator for this study and is working with Angela Sweeney from St George’s University of London and Tina Coldham, an independent service user researcher. The research is funded by NIHR School for Social Care Research.

Mental Health Policy Research Unit

Key people: Dr Sarah Carr, Dr Karen Newbigging

The NIHR Mental Health Policy Research Unit (MHPRU) was established at UCL and KCL in 2017. The aim is to help the Department of Health and Social Care and others involved in making nationwide plans for mental health services to make decisions based on good evidence. MHPRU make expert views and evidence available to policymakers in a timely way and carry out research that is directly useful for policy. The MHPRU is managed by academics at UCL and KCL in partnership with collaborators from University of Birmingham. Sarah Carr is the lead for service user and carer involvement and co-production at MHPRU.

UKRI Loneliness and Social Isolation in Mental Health Network

 Key people: Dr Sarah Carr

The Loneliness and Social Isolation in Mental Health is a research network that will bring together many different relative perspectives on this topic. It is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a body that brings together UK Research Councils in different fields. It is one of eight UKRI-funded researcher networks. It brings together researchers, health practitioners, charities, people with lived experience of mental health problems and loneliness, and other organisations to address important mental health research questions. Researchers include clinical researchers, psychologists, social scientists, service users, neuroscientists and specialists in the arts and in digital innovations. Sarah Carr is the lead for co-production in the Network.

Our policy influence:

Mental Health Policy Commission – Investing in a Resilient Generation

Key people: Rt Hon Professor Paul Burstow, Professor Jerry Tew,  Dr Karen Newbigging

This national policy commission took evidence and reported on what would need to change for young people in order to make a significant reduction in the longer term incidence of mental health difficulties in adulthood. 

Learn more

The Contribution of the Voluntary Sector to Mental Health Crisis Care: a Mixed Methods Study

Key people: Dr Karen Newbigging

The aim of this NIHR funded study was to investigate the contribution of voluntary sector organisations to responding to care and support needs of people experiencing a mental health crisis in England. The research team involved people with personal experience of a mental health crisis. 

Learn more

Evaluating the Use of Patient Experience Data to Improve the Quality of Inpatient Mental Health Care study (EURIPIDES)

Key people: Dr Sarah-Jane Fenton

EURIPIDES aimed to understand which of the many different approaches to collecting and using patient experience data are the most useful for supporting improvements in inpatient mental health care. 

Learn more

Mental Health in the West Midlands Combined Authority: A report for the West Midlands Mental Health Commission 

Key people: Dr Karen Newbigging

The aim of this project was to provide a baseline for the West Midlands Mental Health Commission to identify the costs of poor mental health, and current and planned service developments. This was led by Dr Karen Newbigging in collaboration with Michael Parsonage from the Centre for Mental Health.

Learn more

Primary Care Mental Health

Key people: Dr Karen Newbigging

This briefing from the Centre for Mental Health, with Dr Karen Newbigging, explores a number of local initiatives which are bridging the gap between primary care and secondary care services, supporting people who fall into this ‘grey area’ due to having more complex needs, not meeting secondary care thresholds, or presenting with multiple or medically unexplained symptoms. 

Learn more 

Our PhD research

Parity of Esteem policy: an examination of its articulation, implementation, and effectiveness

PhD student: Stevie Creese

Supervisor: Dr Karen Newbigging

PhD topics open for applications

  • Youth mental health policy and practice
  • Mental health service design and delivery
  • (In)Equality in mental health
  • Mental health and Social Care
  • Mental health and service transitions
  • Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) and Survivor Research