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The REfLECTS study, an innovative stroke rehabilitation research project led by Ulster University, has received additional funding of almost €1.760m from the Health and Social Care Research and Development (HSC R&D) Division, Public Health Agency, to deliver a programme of specialist training and development activities to Allied Health Professionals (AHP) in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

REfLECTS is part of Cross-border Healthcare Intervention Trials In Ireland Network – CHITIN – a unique cross-border partnership with the PHA and the Health Research Board in Republic of Ireland. CHITIN is supported by the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, which is managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.

The study is one of 11 CHITIN trials and is led by Ulster University in partnership with Trinity College Dublin, Northern Health and Social Care Trust, Southern Health and Social Care Trust and Western Health and Social Care Trust as well as County Louth Health Service Executive, ROI.

The REfLECTS study is a multi-centre, cross-border health intervention trial to determine whether mirror-box therapy is effective in enhancing upper limb movement with sub-acute Stroke patients, alongside existing Occupational Therapy treatment. When a stroke occurs it can result in loss of movement in the arm and hand. This can make everyday tasks such as washing, dressing, feeding, walking and household activities more difficult. To help regain movement, the brain needs to relearn how the arm and hand moves.  The REfLECTS study is investigating whether using mirror box therapy (MBT) can help aid recovery of the affected arm.  The trial will involve 180 participants from five sites who require occupational therapy for weakness in the upper limb after their stroke. Half of these individuals will also receive mirror-box therapy. As part of the REfLECTS trial set-up, the research team benefitted from specialist training in both the therapeutic and research aspects of the study and it is these aspects that led to the development of the additional programme of work.

In addition to delivery of the REfLECTS study, the team at Ulster University will deploy the additional funding made available from HSC R&D Division to deliver a programme of specialist training and development (from 2021 to 2023) specifically targeted to 1500 Allied Health Professionals on a cross-border basis. This will include places on a range of postgraduate modules as well as an annual stroke bootcamp, all of which will be provided at no cost to the AHP practitioner.

Dr Alison Porter-Armstrong, Lead Investigator at Ulster University said:

"We are delighted to receive this funding to extend our work. These activities offer an opportunity for a truly dynamic transformation of the Allied Health Professions workforce. The bespoke and tailored education that we will deliver will increase knowledge and skills to enable therapists to respond to challenges they face in the changed and changing landscape of healthcare delivery".

CHITIN Programme Manager, Dr Rhonda Campbell, commented:

“At the core of the CHITIN ethos is enhanced opportunity of involvement in health intervention research, and a sense of network identity, where multi-disciplinary trial delivery teams have formed a network wherein mentoring, training and skills development is being supported. Within network resource, knowledge, best practice, learning and expertise is shared and capitalised upon, creating a legacy for future research in the region. The Allied Health Professions have been pivotal in delivering CHITIN. The provision of additional funding dedicated to training and skills development, allows for expansion of network activity, and will build capacity and capability, supporting continued and enhanced opportunity of involvement for the Allied Health Professions in health intervention research”.