Conference report: HSRN 2015

Having lived in primary care world for a while, it was nice to rejoin fellow health services researchers at HSRN 2015, a conference I haven’t been to for a long while. Held at the Nottingham Conference centre (a venue which interprets “continental breakfast” as sausage sandwiches, to few complaints), it brought together around 300 attendees over two days for a mix of keynotes, parallel sessions and fervent thanks for air conditioning as the world outside sweltered.

So, highlights. I’ve never seen Cathy Pope talk, and I won’t forget it for a while…her deliberately provocative plenary on mindless analyses of big data was like sitting in the centre of a tornado for twenty minutes (in a good way). She outlined, quite forcefully, the need for a critical politics of big data and the recognition of its social construction, and certainly gave us lots to chew over. Unfortunately I missed her intriguingly titled presentation on “External support to NHS Commissioners (or how to sell pre-packed washed lettuce to people who have kitchen gardens)”, but I was reliably informed this was equally entertaining and outspoken.

There was great debate at a breakfast meeting on the association between access to primary care and A&E attendance, genially chaired by Damian Hodgson from Manchester. Does increasing GP opening hours reduce attendance at A&E for minor ailments? Do complex and time consuming GP access systems drive confused patients to turn to the “straightforward” A&E option? I am deliberately phrasing all these as questions, as discussions provoked an ongoing Twitter debate about whether minor conditions are irrelevant to A&E performance or not. Definitely one to watch: I’d love to know more about what evidence is out there on this key issue.

One particular strength was the variety of disciplines in attendance with, for example, engineers bringing systems theories to bear on areas such as A&E waiting times (and winning a presentation prize in the process: you can read the full paper here). And I loved the great design work done by Lab for Living to improve patient experience, for example by using eye tracking analysis to re-design hospital appointment letters. We could all take notes from the elegant design of their display, too.

If I was to have one criticism, it was that posters were shunted off to one side during lunch and tea breaks without a dedicated session to view them. With only a small proportion of abstracts accepted to oral presentation (a good idea), it would have been great to have a really good chance to interact with the other work that was submitted, and particularly to talk to their authors. My favourite poster session set-up is at the North American Primary Care Research Group conference, where they are made a high priority by giving them loads of space and huge boards in dedicated rooms, and timetabling poster sessions to be stand-alone. At NAPCRG, the sessions really are attended by all and are a major focus of dissemination and engagement. Having said that, my colleague still reminisces about a similar set up at a European conference, but with added fine wine. Are you listening, HSRN?

During one of the plenary debates, attention turned to the driving focus of HSR work being to bring benefit to others. Yet in striving to bring these benefits, it’s clear that methods and expertise are still evolving, in particular how to ensure health service researchers engage fully with the worlds of policy and practice.  Lots more to do then, as ever. Finally, thanks are most definitely due to Naomi Fulop and the organising team for putting it all together so well – roll on next year.

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  • The Cambridge Centre for Health Services Research (CCHSR) is a thriving collaboration between the University of Cambridge and RAND Europe. We aim to inform health policy and practice by conducting research and evaluation studies of organisation and delivery of healthcare, including safety, effectiveness, efficiency and patient experience.