Three members of HSRU staff were able to attend their first face-to-face conference since the pandemic, the Health Services Research UK conference in Sheffield July 5-7. Here they share some reflections.
HSRUK 2022 was my first experience of this conference, and my first conference experience since before the pandemic hit. I decided to get the train there so I could make the most of keeping on top of my to do list whilst travelling and arrived in Sheffield for day 2 of the conference. I met Dr Vicky Shepherd (Cardiff University) and Katie Biggs (University of Sheffield) within minutes of the lunch queue forming. Jude Beng, a passionate public contributor based in Sheffield, joined us, and together we ran a workshop to explore opportunities to make trials more inclusive to under-served groups. The discussion in this session was wonderful; HSRUK attracts people with a range of experiences so one minute I was speaking with someone working in substance abuse services, the next I was hearing about improving health services for travelling communities. I could feel my brain fizzing with ideas for future research projects. My highlight was the research presentation session on understanding quality of care, which included the presentation that Louise links to below. The commitment to meaningful patient and public involvement was evident, and I felt quite emotional seeing how PPI has advanced to truly put patients at the heart of our research. In that same session, Laura Sheard gave a fantastic summary of her work on prison healthcare. Her findings shocked me, and I left feeling a bubbling frustration with myself that I didn’t know anything about the crisis in prison healthcare, and that more needs to be done. Prison healthcare is not my area of expertise, but it made me think hard about the way that we as researchers, particularly those working to improve inclusivity, frame and focus our efforts on different underserved groups. If we don't know people from underserved groups personally, then our work is unlikely to attempt to involve and include them. By the time I was on the train back to Aberdeen, I had multiple frantically scribbled pages in my notebook. I’m still reflecting on how researchers involve all kinds of underserved groups, watch this space..
The HSRUK 2022 conference was the first one, after the pandemic, for which I was eager enough to endure the long-forgotten inconveniences of packing and flying. I gave an invited presentation about our research on NHS staff experiences with the implementation of asynchronous consultations across outpatient pathways in Grampian (ACORN project). I led an online workshop at last year’s conference but, compared to that, in-person attendance was something else. Having said that, I appreciated how effectively digital technology was employed, particularly how each poster had a corresponding presentation that had been recorded and was accessible to guests via a QR code that was printed on each poster. I experienced a strong sense of professional belonging for the first time in a long time and was able to see a glimpse of the HSR culture. I enjoyed viewing a variety of work and learning what the community is doing, as well as where we agree and disagree. I rediscovered the delight of the traditional art of dispute, which made me think that perhaps we place too much weight on conformity and consensus-building and avoid creative tensions. Jude, a PPI contributor, shared with me how he felt discouraged from pursuing a public health career due to his gender and skin colour, and after talking with him, I couldn't help but notice that future conferences would benefit from greater racial and ethnic diversity. The plenary sessions featuring two scholar-activists a senior researcher Josephine Ocloo, and a GP Aarti Bansal, and Greg Fell, director of public health Sheffield, had the biggest impact on me. Josephine Ocloo shared a powerful personal story of how from a grieving mother who had lost a child, she became a chair of the Trust’s Patient and Public Involvement Committee, then did a PhD and now researches the impact of diverse patient and public involvement in patient safety improvement activities. Aarti Bansal, a GP and a founder of the community interest company Greener Practice and Net-Zero GP lead, talked about environmental sustainability being integral to the work of GPs. Both were bold, candid, aspirational, and imaginative, showcasing the importance of scholars actively engaging in the communities they work in. I returned to Aberdeen with more confidence in my abilities, a sense of belonging to something bigger than me, and a fresh outlook on my ideas. I took a seat, finished writing a project proposal idea, jotted down some new ones and filled out ‘that dreaded form’. HSRUK may have inspired me.
Unlike Magda and Heidi, this was not my first HSRUK conference. It has always been one of my favourite conferences, with great plenaries from policy makers, senior managers and HSR researchers, and an excellent mix of applied research presentations, workshops and learning sessions. Importantly it’s also always been an opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues, hear about their latest work and have some fun. The evening mini-golf excursions have become legend…
This year, I was involved in a presentation about the conversations we have with PPI partners, how we work with tensions, how we build trust, and how we exercise mutual care for each other. We were delighted to be awarded an HSRUK prize for Innovation and Inclusion, and we’ve written a blog about our presentation here.
The highlight for me was a related learning and development session on the final day, “I'll Meet You There: Reflections on Authentic Co-production in Health Services Research”, led by Sarah Knowles, Lynn Laidlaw and Charlotte Sharp. This offered a safe space to discuss the joys and challenges of coproduction (with no tweeting allowed!), inviting honest and open reflections from presenters and audience alike. It was a great note on which to end.
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