The Health Services Research (HSR) UK Symposium 2017 took place in Nottingham this year on the 6th and 7th of July. It’s an annual symposium that brings together researchers and the people with an invested interest in this research, including NHS managers, commissioners, patient groups and more. From CLAHRC NWL the following people attended the symposium: Dr Julie Reed, Dr Tom Woodcock, Dr Grazia Antonacci and myself. For me, this was my first time at HSR UK. It was a great experience that I would like to share with you.

Presenting at HSR UK

It was a great opportunity to present findings from my PhD that I am currently doing at Imperial College London. My PhD is about the implementation of paediatric allergy care pathways. And one area of focus is the role of Quality Improvement tools, such as process mapping and action effect diagrams, in this process. I presented initial findings in the Improvement Science abstract session with the title: How do quality improvement methods support project progress? I found that healthcare improvement teams use these tools differently, which went hand in hand with different strategic and tactical reasons related to their use. These varying applications are not necessarily a problem. I found that it can actually be really helpful for the teams to overcome specific challenges in their own context. You can find a summary of this presentation here under number IS 07.

Peers, senior researchers and healthcare staff from across the country all sitting in the room. As you can imagine, I was super nervous… Fortunately, the presentation was well received and I even got a few positive comments on Twitter!

Sophie presenting at HSR UK 2017.

Interesting and thought-provoking speakers

There was so much to learn from all the other speakers. They spoke about different types of ongoing health services research, about research priorities and about challenges . Some of my personal highlights…

Highlight 1: lessons from history

The vivid tour through the history of NHS politics by Martin Roland, Emeritus Professor at the University of Cambridge. He showed us that many of the issues we face today, such as How to cope with the overwhelming population health needs?’ or How much money should we invest in the NHS?’ were present in the NHS since its inception. Things haven’t changed that much. So, what can we learn from this? That it is really important not just to focus on ‘the shiny and the new’. We should study the normal day-to-day practices and continuously try to find (better) solutions to these and other problems that the NHS faces.

The dilemma of how much money to invest into the NHS is long-standing. Picture from: Roland (2017) Brief history of politics in the NHS. HSR UK 2017.

Highlight 2: practitioner panel priorities

The input of the practitioner panel in the The legacy of Mid Staffs’ workshop session who questioned and commenting on presentations of NIHR Policy Research Programme (PRP) funded research. Jeremy Taylor, Chief Executive of National Voices, reminded me of the no. 1 on the list of important questions: ‘So what? What does this mean for patients?’. And Moira Durbridge, Director of Safety and Risk at University Hospitals of Leicester, commented on the difficulties of implementing safe staffing policies in practice, with many open vacancies. This doesn’t mean that she and her staff are sitting still. On the contrary, they are actively trying to find other ways to improve safety. The research presentation on safe staffing policies didn’t address these practical issues in much depth. For me, these words really showed the importance of research to be practically relevant and timely; to focus on real issues that patients and staff face and directly contribute to solving them.

Highlight 3: a space for research reflexivity

Reflecting on my research position during the workshop session on ‘the Frontiers of Improvement Science’, chaired by deputy director and academic lead for CLAHRC Northwest London, Dr Julie Reed. The session engaged the audience in exploring the boundaries of Improvement Science and defining the grand challenges within the field. They used the concept of anamorphic art to illustrate that themes within Improvement Science can be viewed from different perspectives. (If you, just like myself, never heard of anamorphic art, you can find the video they showed here) Let’s take impact as an example. This can be seen through a lens of achieving immediate outcomes as part of an improvement project, through a lens of sustaining outcomes over time, or through a lens of spreading outcomes to other regions. These lenses or perspectives are all needed to understand the theme. Taking one perspective over another necessarily puts your focus on certain aspects, blinding yourself to others. During this session I was able to reflect where my own research sits within the field of Improvement Science and what perspectives I am taking.

From left to right: Dr Yogini Jani, Dr Tom Woodcock, Prof
Armstrong, Dr Julie Reed and Dr Grazia Antonacci.

Highlight 4: evaluation to generate and share learning

Learning from Charles Tallack, Head of NHS Operational Research and Evaluation Unit of ‎NHS England, how to design an evaluation that optimises the potential to learn from it. He talked about the evaluation of the New Care Models Programme and explained that a good evaluation does a lot more than measuring impact. He adds that an evaluation should ideally also explore why or how the programme had an impact, what the costs of the intervention were, and how the program was implemented. All these questions need answers to support commissioners and practitioners to decide whether to take up a program in their own setting and to give them guidance on how to make it work locally. So actually, an evaluation as described by Charles Tallack really tries to summarise the learning in one setting to support improvement in other areas. Again emphasising the importance that research should be practically relevant and timely.

Browsing the market stalls and poster boards

It was nice to have the opportunity to talk to different researchers and organisations in the field of health services research. During coffee breaks it was really nice to walk through the different market stalls and poster boards. I learned more about the work and ambitions of the start-up Kaleidoscope Health and Care, who had an amazing Q&A wall. If you had a question, you could write it on a piece of paper and put it on the wall. You could then browse the other questions on the wall to see if you could answer one of them, writing your answer on the same piece of paper. I thought this was a brilliant way of facilitating knowledge sharing at a conference! But I have to admit that I forgot to go back to see if someone was able to answer my question…

Q&A wall set up by Kaleidoscope Health and Care

It was also really interesting to talk to people about the national NIHR CLAHRC programme and specifically about CLAHRC Northwest London together with Grazia Antonacci when we were manning the CLAHRC market stall. I was surprised with how many people were actually already aware of the programme and how many were engaged in one of the projects nationally. The market stalls and poster boards also provided a good opportunity to follow up on presentations or conversations. I was for example able to follow up on a very interesting presentation about embedded evaluation of the Q-community at the Health Foundation market stall and I could follow people to their poster so that they could much more easily explain what their work was all about.

Grazia and Sophie manning the CLAHRC market stall

All in all, lots of food for thought! And I feel motivated and inspired to continue my work in the field of health services research, aiming to make a difference for patients and staff.