Coronavirus (COVID-19): Mental Health Research Advisory Group minutes - January 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 15 January 2021.

Attendees and apologies


  • Andrew Gumley (Chair) (AG)
  • Alastair Cook (AC), Scottish Government
  • Gordon Johnston (GJ), VoX
  • Rory O’Connor (ROC), University of Glasgow
  • Alan McNair (AMc)
  • Steve Platt (SP)
  • Matthias Schwannauer (MS), University of Edinburgh
  • Daniel Kopasker (DK), University of Aberdeen
  • Lucy Mulvagh (LM), Health and Social Care Alliance
  • Neil Quinn, (NQ) University of Strathclyde
  • Lee Knifton, (LK) Mental Health Foundation (Joined the meeting later)
  • Stephen McLeod, (SM) Scottish Government
  • Karen Martin (KM), Carers Trust
  • Sarah Martin (SM), Scottish Government
  • Jess Galway (JG), Scottish Government
  • Carol Brown (CB), Scottish Government
  • Ally Winford (AW), Scottish Government
  • Anne Armstrong (AA), Scottish Government

Items and actions

Matters Arising

The Group recorded its congratulations to Sarah on her new arrival. Her positive input to the group was acknowledged.

No substantive issues to note. Teams page continues to be updated with COVID-19 mental health research by Kathryn O’Hare.

Minutes for previous meeting

Minutes were accepted for publication.

Agenda Item 1 - Remit of the MHRAG

AG described original vision for the MHRAG – a collaborative forum to discuss emerging policy priorities and improve decision making. AG noted the group’s work being reflected in, amongst other things, the Government’s Transition and Recovery Plan.

The question is whether the current ToR are still correct in the current circumstances. Do they reflect how priorities are likely to emerge and change over the coming months and years?

AC reflected that ToR is possibly too narrow. MS echoed this – a lot of pandemic impacts exacerbate inequalities that existed pre-Covid, so keeping a remit focused on broader key risk factors for mental health, not just those directly arising because of Covid. MS reflected that the group could be more agile to respond to changing circumstances, through for example identify key gaps etc. Covid should not be an exclusive focus.

LM supported this, and added that the section of the ToR referring to “who the group will engage with” should be expanded to include people with lived experience. This could also include a Lived Experience Panel sitting alongside the MHRAG. However, the existing ToR are otherwise broadly fit for purpose. GJ echoed this and suggested a review of whether membership is wide enough. GJ also noted that although the Group does not directly commission research, a question is whether the ToR should be expanded to allow the Group to examine existing Gaps to make recommendations to those who do commission research.

SM added that the group is very well placed to identify gaps, however availability of evidence is still patchy. The Tracker Study is limited in scope and will also expire in April 2021. A focus of the MHRAG moving forward could be to gather comprehensive, robust and timely evidence on MH impacts.

CB asked whether this meant a return to a previous commitment for a more general, non-Covid specific Research And Policy Forum. AC noted there may be a handling issue with any transition that suggests we are back to business as usual and would need to be handled carefully.

DK reiterated point from last meeting – evaluation of interventions is also important. Group’s remit could be expanded to cover to “the development and evaluation” of policy.

ROC suggested that remit should make it explicit that the Group covers the lifespan, including under-18s. SMc echoed the importance of explicitly stating what the age range covered is.

Key Themes

  • strong support for broadening focus of Group
  • issue about agility and how the Group responds to, highlights, and anticipates changing circumstances
  • should be a strong focus on lived experience, inc. involvement of unpaid carers.
  • revisit original aims of Policy & Research Forum – an evolution of that group, rather than moving away from Covid impacts.
  • revisit membership
  • revisit wording around evaluation of policy
  • make explicit the age range covered by Group
  • make explicit that the Group’s remit spans emotional wlelbeing through to mental illness
  • a role for the Group in identifying evidence gaps, also in terms of infrastructure for gathering evidence (as well as the evidence itself)


  • AG and AC to revisit TOR based on comments at this meeting, and distribute to the Group.

Agenda Item 2 - Future priorities for the MHRAG

LM pointed out existing gaps in data and evidence, across the protected characteristics. These tend to go much wider than just MH – i.e. unpaid carers, gypsy/travellers, survivors etc. 3rd Sector are well placed to help with filling these gaps as they are often trusted within communities. This was supported by KM, highlighting links that unpaid carer organisations have into seldom-heard groups.

DK suggested an assessment of workforce mental wellbeing. Lots of research done in 2020. KM noted this should include the social care workforce too. ROC to follow up with Simon on scope of UK-wide workforce survey.

AC emphasised a longer-term focus on the impacts on the Scottish population over the coming years.

ROC acknowledged the limitations of current Tracker study. Any successor study should be linked to existing datasets. SM added this should go beyond immediate Covid impacts.

SM/SMc announced that NHS UK Benchmarking data collection is launching in Scotland, with a “proof of concept” launch event in March and a scope to widen beyond NHS services thereafter.

Key Themes

  • A focus on C&YP as a key priority – what have been the effects, perhaps generational, on their mental wellbeing?
  • Focus on how non-face-to-face service delivery are working for people – what works and what doesn’t?
  • In terms of MH/Covid: What might happen next? What are the outcomes for MH? What should our decisions and investments be?
  • In terms of services: What do people in Scotland say they need? Local support? Loneliness? More CAMHS and PT?
  • Agility in being able to use other networks to gather evidence as widely as possible
  • Opportunity for the Group to design an ambitious and forward-thinking piece of work to commence following the conclusion of the Tracker study. Group to sculpt what this piece of work should looks like.
  • This work should be linked to SG commitments to enhance data infrastructure – will ensure capacity in the Health service to complete the study.
  • SG colleagues can then take recommendation for next steps to appropriate officials, inc. the Minister. Also important to link with relevant SG colleagues. i.e. Workforce Wellbeing.


  • Proposal for a Scottish longitudinal study into the long-term impacts of Covid, taking into account we want to extend it to under-represented groups.
  • To help do this, sub-group to be formed to develop a proposal, within the scope of the MHRAG’s ToR. Proposal to include compelling rationale, and an idea of costings. Proposal should cover whole spectrum of need, inc. mental illness as well as mental wellbeing. A data scientist, covering an academic viewpoint, should be part of this group.
  • Three priority areas – C&YP, data linkage, and workforce wellbeing.
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