The Health Research Authority (HRA) has found that levels of public involvement in COVID-19 research increased following the introduction of a public involvement matching service, in a report published last week. A group of public contributors from the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre took part in the matching service and two of the contributors have spoken about their experiences in a new short film.
The matching service was set up in May 2020 in response to a significant decrease in public involvement, specifically in COVID-19 research studies. A workshop hosted by the HRA in April explored the reasons for this and found that there were assumptions among some research teams that public contributors’ motivation and availability had decreased, when in fact, it was often the complete opposite.
The Oxford BRC certainly reflected this as it saw an increase in members of the public making contact to offer to help with research both as public contributors and trial participants. A list of public contributors, some new to research, some experienced, who could respond at short notice to requests for help, was established. This group joined the HRA matching service and members helped with several projects, both through the service and from direct requests from local researchers.
The HRA’s report found that the pandemic highlighted and worsened existing public involvement issues. However, the matching service provided an opportunity to improve information-sharing. The HRA are keen to continue the resource while also working with stakeholders to ensure meaningful public involvement becomes the norm for all health and social care research in the UK.