Date published: 12 June 2023

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Some of you may have seen the recent Government announcement about establishing the first ever Mental Health Research for Innovation Centre (M-RIC) in Liverpool, and I thought I’d use this month’s blog to explain what we hope to achieve with this exciting collaboration between healthcare, academia and research.

M-RIC is a partnership between Mersey Care and the University of Liverpool and funded as part of the national ‘Mental Health Mission’ from the Office of Life Sciences and the National Institute for Health and Care Research. It aims to accelerate mental health research through a UK network of leading investigators.

It will focus on under-researched areas such as early intervention in psychosis, depression, and children and young people’s mental health. M-RIC underpins Liverpool City Region’s commitment to service users, providing easy access to clinical trials and increasing their involvement in better care, closer to home.

While M-RIC will be led by healthcare professionals, academics, researchers, industry partners and public advisers, it’s important to stress this is not an initiative that is restricted to Chief Executives and Professors  – in fact we want to put mental health research at the heart of Mersey Care and our communities and make it everyone’s business.

Senior researchers and doctors will obviously be actively involved in this, but we want to see patients, carers, Nurses, Allied Health Professionals, Facilities Management Assistants, and administrative staff all making a contribution. In short everyone both inside and outside the NHS that may be touched by mental health – which means nearly all our local population.

Not everyone will want to become one of our principal investigators or even research active, but the more information we can gather, the better informed we will be about how our patients respond to our care, including earlier identification of trigger points, risks, trends etc.

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I know from my time with the Zero Suicide Alliance that the more data and research we can collect, the better informed we are and the better placed to look at different ways of dealing with mental health and suicidal issues. We should see that as a big opportunity. If you’re interested in becoming involved in research, whatever your role in the trust is, there’s details for how to get in contact with the team at the end of this blog.

The next stage of M-RIC’s development will include the launch of the headquarters in Liverpool which will take place in the Autumn.  Our fantastic Research and Innovation team based at Hollins Park, Mersey Care will continue their work alongside University of Liverpool facilities to support this really important work for our patients, staff and communities.

There’s also a meeting of the national Co-Chairs of the Mental Health Mission in Liverpool this week, which I will be attending. We will be discussing the main aims, including how to improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis and increase the use of new technology.

This is a once in a generation opportunity for the Liverpool City region and there has been staunch support for M-RIC from metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, who is more aware than most how this area has been historically under-funded for its mental health care.

Since the announcement, I’ve been asked several times why Liverpool will be the base for M-RIC? There are, of course, other cities in the UK who have mental health issues – it’s an international problem – but few struggle with as many social issues as Liverpool, which we know are major factors in mental illness.

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As you can see from the infographic above, which bases its figures on the 2021 Census, Liverpool’s population experiences some of the highest rates of mental illness and associated physical health and social problems anywhere in the UK. For some conditions, mental health service users in Liverpool live on average 20 years fewer than the UK average.

There’s a need to close the gap between research discoveries and new clinical practice and reach the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups who need knowledge and education about mental health and the opportunity to access the best and most innovative research in this field.

This funding means our patients and population will benefit from investment into research and innovation, costs saved through better prevention and treatment for mental health conditions and the wider social and economic benefits of improved mental wellbeing.

This will include evaluating new drugs, new uses of existing drugs and exploring new digital therapies such as apps and artificial intelligence to help support mental health and wellbeing. Working with our partners we’ll develop digital tools to enable predictive, pre-emptive and precise interventions in mental health. This will very much bring mental health treatment into the twenty first century.

I’m sure there will also be people out there who can make a case that funding should go towards reducing waiting lists in areas like Cancer treatment and I have every sympathy with that viewpoint, although investment in cancer research is four times higher at 19.6 percent of the UK health research budget than mental health (5.5 percent).

In 2011, the amount spent on cancer research was £521 million, resulting in approximately £1,571 per cancer patient, while the average spent on mental health was £115, equating approximately to £9.75 per adult with mental ill health.

In an ideal world there would be enough funding to ensure consistent treatment right across the NHS, but I’m afraid we live in challenging times following the COVID-19 pandemic and initiatives like M-RIC will go a long way towards helping the increasing demand for mental health services in Liverpool.

We know one in four adults experience some form of mental illness and the third commonest cause of disability is depression. It is estimated the impact of mental ill health costs the UK economy £118 billion per year. In 2020/1, the estimated cost of poor mental health to UK employers was £56 billion and we hope M-RIC can make real strides towards helping to improve all those figures.

More information about this exciting news is available via the Mersey Care website Mental Health Research for Innovation Centre (M-RIC) and University of Liverpool M-RIC - Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, and on our dedicated M-RIC website as it develops over the coming weeks.

In the meantime, if you would like to reach out to the M-RIC team, please email our team or follow us on Twitter or Facebook, where we’ll post all the latest developments and news to ensure those who want to get involved can do so.

Prof Joe Rafferty CBE

Chief Executive, Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust