Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust (C&I) Consultant Clinical Psychiatrist Sonia Johnson has been appointed director of a new research unit commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) for the Department of Health, which will play a major role in shaping future national mental health policy.
The new unit, receiving £5 million funding over five years, brings together mental health researchers, clinicians, service users and carers, with the overall aim of providing research that informs policy makers.
Sonia Johnson, Professor of Social and Community Psychiatry at UCL, will head a team that also includes several other senior UCL academic colleagues who are consultants at C&I.
These include David Osborn, Professor of Psychiatric Epidemiology, and Steve Pilling, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Clinical Effectiveness, who are among the new unit’s lead researchers.
The unit will focus on the prevention, access, and quality of mental health care by conducting research on the impact of existing policies, guiding future plans and acting as a central point for providing and collating evidence to inform policy.
It will also provide tailored analysis of existing data and established findings, and the expectation is that some of the unit’s work will involve the Clinical Record Interactive Search (CRIS) database which C&I has been one of the first mental health trusts to help pioneer.
CRIS enables anonymous information about patient outcomes to be analysed on a mass, generalised basis for projects that would otherwise be impossible.
Professor Johnson has worked in the Trust since 1997 and in 2003 co-founded and since helped develop C&I’s Early Intervention Service for people presenting with a first episode of psychosis.
She said: “Mental health 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 have access to the most comprehensive and up-to-date evidence to guide their plans.
“Our network of experts includes economists, big data analysts, and service user researchers, so we will be well placed to look at mental health policy research from many different angles.”
The new body – formally the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Mental Health Policy Research Unit – was commissioned following an open competition and will be hosted at UCL, who will jointly lead it with King’s College London.
Dr Vincent Kirchner, C&I Medical Director, said: “This is a great accolade for Sonia and our other UCL colleagues who will be working within the unit. Their involvement recognises the outstanding research work they carry out and puts them at the heart of crafting and influencing national mental health policy.”