Research and Technology

07.04.20

Nuffield Foundation award £4m funding to six UK research projects

Six research teams across five UK universities have received a share of £4m funding from the Nuffield Foundation to support their work seeking to improve the lives of people living with musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions by influencing policy and practice.

As many as 18.8 million people in the UK are affected by musculoskeletal conditions, including arthritis and back pain, and it is the leading contributor to disability in the country.

One in five people in England consult a GP about a musculoskeletal condition every year, accounting for the third largest area of NHS England annual spend at £4.7bn, according to figures for 2013-14.

Despite the prevalence of MSK conditions among the general population, there is a lack of scientific study and evidence collated so far into how these conditions progress and effect people’s wellbeing and life chances. These new, interdisciplinary research projects the Nuffield Foundation is helping to fund will address this knowledge gap by exploring the impacts of MSK conditions on different aspects of wellbeing.

The research projects will create new datasets, as well as utilising existing data in new and innovative ways.

The Nuffield Foundation granted the £4m research grants as part of its wider £12.5m dedicated fund to research into MSK conditions.

Two of the projects awarded funding by the Nuffield Foundation were done so in partnership with the charity Versus Arthritis, who contributed £250,000 towards the grants. Those research projects were:

  • Assembling the data jigsaw in Greater Manchester, led by Professor Will Dixon (University of Manchester). The project will seek to draw together data regarding diagnosis and treatment by GPs and rheumatologists in Greater Manchester, social care records, information collected from patients via touchscreens in hospital waiting areas and social media content. Linking this data will enable the team to better understand how common MSK conditions are, how they progress, what treatments are best and who needs which services and when. The project has been awarded £1.5m over four years.
  • Integrating enriched, longitudinal multi-level data in North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, led by Professor George Peat (Keele University). The project aims to improve MSK health care quality through a novel and scalable approach to linking data across North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. Rich datasets will be created from primary care records, MSK community service providers and, crucially, surveys of MSK patients and the wider population, enabling researchers to better understand the extent of inequalities in musculoskeletal health and the impact of service redesign. The project has been awarded £1.3m over five years.

iStock-638480492

As many as 18.8 million people in the UK are affected by musculoskeletal conditions, including arthritis and back pain, and it is the leading contributor to disability in the country.
 

Three of the projects earning funding from the Nuffield Foundation will generate new knowledge, linking existing datasets to explore the causes and consequences of MSK. These research grants have been funded exclusively by the Nuffield Foundation:

  • Geographical mapping of prevalence and outcomes in MSK conditions across Wales and Scotland, led by Dr Rosemary Hollick (University of Aberdeen). The project will focus on Wales and Scotland, seeking to understand how MSK is impacted by living rurally and linking healthcare records to understand the extent of geographical difference in the prevalence and outcome of those living with MSK conditions, and factors driving such differences. The project has been awarded £377,000 over two years.
  • How does arthritis affect earnings over time? Longitudinal evidence from three UK panel datasets, led by Dr Adam Martin (University of Leeds). The project will track the earnings of people of working age with arthritis compared to those who don’t using existing data from over 60,000 people. The study will estimate the loss of earnings for individuals of having arthritis, who is impacted most, and then scale up to look at implications for the whole UK economy, creating an evidence-base which will help decision makers to target future interventions. The Project has been awarded £181,000 over two years.
  • The impact of MSK conditions on outcomes of other illnesses: a linked electronic health records survey, led by Dr John Edwards (Keele University). The project will identify whether having MSK, and the pain that accompanies it, leads to worse outcomes for those with heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, dementia, or cancer. The project will use data collected from the large UK wide database of general practice records, hospital records and mortality data, hoping to find links which may facilitate better patient outcomes in the future. The project has been awarded £350,000 over two years.

Finally, Nuffield Foundation also funded a research grant for a project aimed at generating new data to inform patient decision making:

  • Understanding and improving decision making for joint replacement surgery in older patients with complex health needs, led by Professor Alan Silman (University of Oxford). The project will see researchers conduct in-depth interviews with 60 people aged 70 or over, from locations across England, who have been referred for possible surgery for severe knee osteoarthritis, and who have other health conditions. The team will then develop a patient-friendly resource to help patients, their carers and health professionals decide whether surgery is the best option for them. The project has been awarded £286,000 over three years.

Tim Gardam, Chief Executive of the Nuffield Foundation, said of the granting the funds to the six research projects: “The Nuffield Foundation is committed to improving people’s lives through better understanding of the issues affecting their life chances.

“Together these new projects will improve our understanding of the impact of MSK conditions on both individuals and wider society.

“We are delighted to be partnering with Versus Arthritis to help improve the health and well-being of people living with MSK conditions by influencing future practice, policy and research.”

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