Establishing a research partnership to investigate functional loss and rehabilitation towards the end of life

Matthew Maddocks, Lisa Jane Brighton, Louise Connell, Alison Cowley, Barry Laird, Guy Peryer, Carmine Petrasso, Lucy Ziegler, Rowan Harwood

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Background: Functional loss, the inability to perform necessary or desired tasks, is a common consequence of life-limiting illnesses and associated symptoms (pain, fatigue, breathlessness, etc.) and causes suffering for patients and families. Rehabilitation, a set of interventions designed to address functional loss, is recognised as essential within palliative care, as it can improve quality of life and reduce care costs. However, not everyone has equal access to rehabilitation. Despite limited life expectancy or uncertain ability to benefit from interventions, palliative rehabilitation services are often absent. This is partly due to a lack of high-quality research around optimal models of rehabilitation. Research in this area is methodologically challenging and requires multidisciplinary and cross-speciality collaboration.

Aim and objectives: We aimed to establish and grow a United Kingdom research partnership across diverse areas, commencing with partners from Edinburgh, East Anglia, Lancashire, Leeds, London and Nottingham, around the topic area of functional loss and rehabilitation in palliative and end-of-life care. The objectives were to (1) develop a multidisciplinary, cross-speciality research partnership, (2) generate high-priority unanswered research questions with stakeholders, (3) co-design and submit high-quality competitive research proposals, including (4) sharing topic and methodological expertise, and (5) to build capacity and capability to deliver nationally generalisable studies.

Activities: The partnership was established with professionals from across England and Scotland with complementary areas of expertise including complex palliative and geriatric research, physiotherapy, nursing, palliative medicine and psychology. Research questions were generated through a modified version of the Child Health and Nutrition Research Initiative, which allowed for the collation and refinement of research questions relating to functional loss and rehabilitation towards the end of life. Partnership members were supported through a series of workshops to transform research ideas into proposals for submission to stage one calls by the National Institute for Health and Care Research. The partnership not only supported students, clinicians and public members with training opportunities but also supported clinicians in securing protected time from clinical duties to allow them to focus on developing local research initiatives.

Reflections: Through our partnership we established a network that offered researchers, clinicians, students and public members the chance to develop novel skills and explore opportunities for personal and professional development around the topic area of functional loss and rehabilitation in palliative and end-of-life care. The partnership was crucial to foster collaboration and facilitate exchange of ideas, knowledge and experiences to build joint research study proposals.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth Technology Assessment
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024

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