Innovative conference highlights role of research

An innovative conference, bringing together healthcare leaders and academics from around 20 organisations was hailed as fascinating and informative.

DSC_0013The research team at Healthwatch Essex, who co-organised the event, explored how to maximise the impact of research to improve people’s experiences of health and social care as speakers drew out the challenges of communication between the two worlds.

Lively question and answer sessions, and workshops also gave participants the chance to debate the idea of co-production, whereby those undertaking research, those who will be affected by it, and stakeholders responsible for delivering and commissioning services all take part in its production.

Co-production and impact are two real buzz-words in the academic world, yet delegates were asked to ponder how quickly on-the-ground impact can be felt by patients and beneficiaries, how to improve its relevance, and how they could influence future research which in turn may benefit them. The importance of recognising ‘holistic’ evidence, which include patient and user’s lived experience (not separated into mental health and physical health, for example, but seeing the whole picture) was also raised.

The event, called ‘Improving Policy and Practice in Healthcare: Co-Producing Impact Symposium’, at Wivenhoe House, University of Essex, was a joint venture between The School of Health and Human Sciences at the University and Healthwatch Essex, supported by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Commissioners, academics, policy analysts and practitioners all agreed that gathering to exchange ideas and gain a greater understanding of each other’s worlds was invaluable.

Jo Hall, Deputy Chief Operating Officer for North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, who spoke at the conference, said afterwards: “For me the value of the actual informal discussion is so important.” She said how often people value sitting in meetings writing proposals, adding; “But a lot of the work could get done in a relational way that we all know works when we go to events like this. The qualitative research feels like it is a luxury but it shouldn’t be.”

Deborah O’Callaghan, Implementation Consultant from NICE, talked about how helpful it had been to bridge the gap between organisations, giving her a chance “to triangulate and talk to others here in a ‘normal person’ kind of way, and not in a board room.”

Other speakers included Dr Oonagh Corrigan, Research and Commissioning Manager at Healthwatch Essex; Dr Ewen Speed; and Dr Susan McPherson, both Senior Lecturers in the School of Health and Human Sciences of the University of Essex. Professor Rob Anderson, from the University of Exeter Medical School spoke about, and also lead a workshop on, the challenges of measuring the impact of health research. Emma Sweeney, Macmillan Head of Cancer Nursing at Colchester Hospital, gave a fascinating insight into how patient feedback has helped improve the quality of services, particularly since the hospital hit the headlines in 2013 after inspectors raised serious concerns about its cancer services.

Speakers on day two of the conference included the charismatic Dr Saba Hinrichs-Krapels, Senior Research Fellow at The Policy Institute, King’s College, London; Jo Hall; Professor Peter Beresford, Professor of Citizen Participation at the University of Essex; and Barbara Herts, Director for Commissioning Mental Health at Essex County Council.

Dr Corrigan, who organised the conference with Dr Speed and Dr McPherson, said: “Personally I have found the conference really fascinating and learned a lot. What I found really helpful was understanding the need to engage with stakeholders at all levels.”

Healthwatch Essex has since received some excellent feedback about the event.

Neil Tester, Communications and Policy Director for Healthwatch England said: “Congratulations on a great event and thanks so much for inviting me. I got lots from it and it’s really informed my thinking about how we reflect the wider impact of the [Healthwatch] network”

Professor Anderson said: “It was really stimulating and stretching, and the diversity and quality of the speakers really blew me away. …. still buzzing with ideas and plans and connections that I want to take forward – so thank you!”

Looking ahead, attendees at the conference expressed a keenness to continue the conversations they began there. Individual and organisational connections were made that will, it’s hoped, help to bridge the gap between the worlds of research, commissioning, policy and the service user – because it was clear that all of the attendees at the conference had improving patient and service user experience at the centre of their thinking.