New report evaluates innovative opioid reduction pilot

The North East and North Cumbria is in the 78th highest centile for opioid prescribing in England. Health Innovation North East North Cumbria (HI NENC) has been co-leading a project with the National Institute for Health and Care Research Applied Research Collaborative North East North Cumbria (NIHR ARC NENC) and several regional partners, which pilots the use of an innovative digital intervention to reduce opioid prescribing in primary care.

Opioid use is recognised as a significant problem within disadvantaged communities, and the majority of the highest prescribing areas are located in the North of England. As part of the NHS Insights Prioritisation Programme (NIPP), HI NENC and the NIHR ARC NENC have been collaborating on a project that evaluates the impact of a video message intervention, to reduce opioid prescribing in primary care and support patients to reduce their dose, when appropriate.

The video was targeted at patients identified as prescribed high levels of opioids and was sent via text message. This enabled the efficient delivery of a discrete offer of help to at-risk individuals who often avoid service contact, especially during the pandemic. The video explained the benefits for opioid reduction and encouraged patients to seek support. This study was developed with a person with lived experience of opioid reduction, who provided essential input into the messaging and information that would be share with patients.

The project involved key partners from across the region, including primary care teams, Teesside University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, and the Integrated Care Board North East North Cumbria (NENC ICB). This demonstrated that it is possible to bring together organisations from across our health and care system, to effectively deliver a project that addresses an ICB priority and ultimately improve healthcare for patients.

The project has been rolled out across 25 GP Practices and delivered to 538 patients in the North East and North Cumbria. The findings will be used to inform future opioid strategies.

Professor Julia Newton, Medical Director for HI NENC and co-lead on the project, said: “NENC is a national outlier with some of the highest rates of opioid use compared to other areas of England.  This project used a digital intervention texted to those identified as being prescribed high doses of opioids explaining why it would be of benefit to reduce their dose and offering to support them with this. It’s been a great example of collaborative working across 3 of our Universities leading to impactful benefits for people in NENC.”


Cormac Ryan, Professor of Clinical Rehabilitation for the School of Health & Life Sciences, Teesside University and co-lead on the project said: “High dose opioid use for persistent pain is not recommended and can have significant negative health effects. Reducing it is an important goal in NENC. This project is an excellent example of impactful, translational, research bringing about real-world benefits for people with persistent pain living in the region, with the potential to be scaled up nationally.”

Read the ‘Evaluating the impact of a video intervention to reduce opioid prescribing in primary care’ report here.

Supporting post-pandemic innovations through the NHS Insights Prioritisation Programme (NIPP)

This project was delivered as part of the NHS Insights Prioritisation Programme. Launched in 2021 by NHS England and the NHS Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC), the programme invited local health innovation networks and National Institute for Health Research Applied Research Collaborations (NIHR ARCs) to bid for a share of £4.2m investment to test and evaluate promising innovation within their Integrated Care Systems (ICSs).

Individual health innovation networks were already linked with their corresponding local NIHR Applied Research Collaborations. NIPP presented an opportunity for them to work closely together on a specific project, benefitting from each other’s unique skills and links with system partners.

Each of the Health Innovation Network and NIHR ARC projects aimed to demonstrate a positive impact on health inequalities, focusing on four priority areas:

  • Remote consultation
  • Remote monitoring
  • New approaches to service delivery
  • Health and social care workforce innovation

The programme ran from November 2021 to March 2023. Read the NIPP programme report, which includes all 14 projects here.

Read the ‘Evaluating the impact of a video intervention to reduce opioid prescribing in primary care’ report here.