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Research Reflections: Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration

Author: Dr Sarah Russell
30 March 2017

Dr Sarah Russell, Head of Research and Clinical Innovation at Hospice UK, attended the West Midlands Supportive and Palliative Care Research showcase where she was impressed by the collaborative spirit of the region’s research teams.

Research is about being curious and inquiring. It is also concerned with rigour, consistency and relevance to care. Perhaps it is also about passion and vision.

On Friday 24 March, I attended the West Midlands Fourth Annual Supportive and Palliative Care Research showcase at Douglas Macmillan Hospice in Stoke on Trent. My remit was to share and discuss Research Ready and Active Hospices. The West Midlands Clinical Research Network (CRN) covers Shropshire, Staffordshire, West Midlands, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire. Part of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the West Midlands team is rather remarkable.

I could say it is because West Midlands CRN are the highest recruiting research network in the country, recruiting 544,115 participants since 2006. I could mention that it is because over the last 10 years more than 3,000 studies have been made available in the region. I could observe that it is because participants have been recruited into studies from every NHS trust, more than half the regions GP practices and in hospices, nursing homes, pharmacies, schools and prisons1.

But I think it is something else – it is the way that a region has had the vision (heart), workforce (hands) and passion (soul) to work together in a collaborative way to carry out research. This is evident in the West Midlands Model of Supportive and Palliative Care Research consisting of NIHR delivery manager, locality manager, sub speciality leads, and administration support as well as adult and children research nurses.   The group works to:

  • Improve supportive and palliative care through research in all areas of practice
  • Increase awareness of research throughout the region.
  • Support local hospices and care homes to be involved.
  • Encourage clinicians to identify topics for future research and to be adopted by the NIHR portfolio
  • Ensure researchers are able to access studies for participants in all care settings.

So what caught my eye on the day?

There were posters from across the region sharing findings and experiences about researching with children, long term mental conditions, symptom control, hospital doctors’ experiences of end of life care, secondary and primary care integration.

Also of interest were posters from St Giles Hospice Taking the first steps into portfolio  studies,  and Making Children’s Hospices Research Ready from CRN West Midlands. There was also a fascinating poster about Digital Portfolio Maps from CRN West Midlands which is a visual tool for accessing information relating to local and national NIHR portfolio of research studies.

Chaired by Dr Clare Marlow, Consultant in Palliative Care at the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust and active researcher herself, speakers covered a range of topics including:

Jo Armes, Senior Lecturer from Kings College London and Chair of the National Cancer Research Institute Psychosocial Oncology Clinical Studies Group, reminded us about where psychosocial oncology and survivorship research fitted into national studies as well as examples such as the Advanced Symptom Management System (ASyMS), an electronic patient reported outcomes measure.

Richard Grant, Lay co-researcher on the SHARED carer and patient-led development of recommendations for people with dementia, shared unique perspectives on being a volunteer researcher from study design, interviews and analysis including his words “lay people apply value to the benefit of real people’s lives”

Annie Young, Professor of Nursing at Warwick Medical School, described the HARP (Hospices Advancing Research Priorities: A Delphi Study) work done prior to the palliative and end of life care Priority Setting  Partnership . The study asked hospices across the West Midlands what research they thought needed to be carried out in hospices. The final result of ‘What factors lead to palliative care patients being admitted to acute hospitals: can we design services to improve their support at home’ is leading to future work designing  and testing an intervention in the area.

Hazel Coop, Chair of WM Cares and Palliative Care Registrar, provided a really useful example of collaboration and vision describing the West Midlands Collaborative Actioning Research End of Life and Supportive Care group.

But what really stood out for me was the spirit and evidence of collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. Whether it was by peer encouragement, generosity of intellect or practical hands on support, the West Midlands CRN and Supportive and Palliative Care Research Team demonstrated how shared vision, joint passion and a commitment to a research workforce can and does make a difference.

The West Midlands team is an excellent example of a regional hub of palliative and hospice research activity.

Find out more about the West Midlands CRN


1. Data from Clinical Research Network, West Midlands (August 2016), A Guide to CRN West Midlands: Delivering research to make patients, and the NHS, better.

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