Shalini Ahuja is a health services researcher and physiotherapist who is working as a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Implementation Science at the Health Services Population Research Department, King’s College London.
She is interested in using implementation research methods to explore the confluence of evidence-based interventions and how they are delivered throughout health and care systems, in order to support evidence-based policies that can effectively improve global health.
Currently, she works for the NIHR ARC National Priorities Programme on Mental Health including children and young people’s mental health (https://www.arc-sl.nihr.ac.uk/research-and-implementation/our-research-areas/mental-health-implementation-network). She works towards catalysing and evaluating the co-produced implementation of high impact, evidence-based mental health interventions, at key stages of the life course, supra-regionally within the National Health Services.
Prior to this, Ahuja was working with NIHR Health Protection Research Unit at Imperial College London for ASPIRES project. Here, she supported the development and evaluation of context specific behavioural, structural and technological interventions aiming at optimising antibiotic usage across the surgical pathway in England, India, Rwanda and South Africa.
Ahuja also worked for Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) in Emerging Mental Health Systems in Low and Middle Income countries (EMERALD) and Programme for Improving Mental Health Care (PRIME) projects. Here, she worked towards integrating mental health at primary levels by strengthening mental health information systems.
She holds an PhD in Health Services Research from King’s College London and a master’s degree in Health Management, Planning and Policy from University of Leeds.
Setting mental health priorities can assist researchers and funders in enabling improvement in and expansion of mental health services. In the context of a national mental health implementation programme, this study aims to provide a list of mental health priorities for England, as well as a collection of adaptable evidence-based methodologies and tools to help determine them.
A mixed methods research design was embedded in a three-step prioritisation approach, which included desk reviews, expert consultations and data triangulation. Diverse groups of specialists, including patient and public representatives, worked together to increase decision-making quality and dialectical inquiry. A multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) model was used to combine participants’ varied opinions, data and judgments about the data’s relevance to the issues at hand during a decision conferencing workshop where the priorities were finalised.
The study identified four mental health priority topic areas: strengthening community engagement systems for improving access to care for ethnic minorities, IAPT style services for children and young people, especially in schools mental health inequities, physical health checks and subsequent interventions to manage physical health of people with severe mental illness, and integrated care protocols for mental health and substance use problems
We report (1) a highly inclusive attempt to ensure that the resulting list of mental health priorities (2) agrees with perceived needs on the ground and (3) focuses on evidence-based interventions. Others, not just those in mental health, can benefit from the methodological approach offered if they need to make rapid and tough health-prioritisation decisions.