Conference report: Society for Academic Primary Care (SAPC) 2015

Oxford. “City of dreaming spires”. Even, I am reliably informed by the Tourist Information Office, looking “like something out of a fairy tale”. Sadly I didn’t spot many winsome princesses, but there were a fairly hefty amount of primary care researchers descending (without wings) on the city to hear about the latest in academic primary care last week.

Top of the bill in policy terms with Simon Stevens, CEO of NHS England and a very smooth performer. He set out what he sees as the major challenges facing primary care and primary care research in the next few years, highlighting early cancer diagnosis and referral; obesity; integrated mental and physical health services; and the organisation of general practice as key concerns. He challenged the audience to tackle these head on, by about yesterday, and massaged our egos by telling us that, whilst we were relatively under resourced, there was nothing more important and exciting to tackle over the next ten years. He was wonderful at asking questions, but apparently finding the answers is all up to us.

Bruce Guthrie, Professor of Primary Care Medicine at the University of Dundee, was another stand out key note, asking whether multimorbidity is a new paradigm or the emperor’s new clothes. He gave us a whistle stop tour of the area, pointing out that most research questions could be formulated in terms of multimorbidity, including the organisation of health services and patient experience both of care and living with illness. He’s also great for career advice, by the way, as I happened to sit next to him at dinner to find that, by port time, we’d pretty much mapped out what I was supposed to be doing. Thanks to Bruce there.

Workshops were great (well, the ones I went to were). There was lots to think about in the session on how research impact can be measured from the BJGP and Altmetric, with a great insider’s view of the REF from Paul Little, Professor of Primary Care Research at Southampton (broadly positive, in fact). We also got a detailed breakdown of Altmetrics and how we can use this to understand the attention our published work gets from Jean Liu, their product development manager (and this wasn’t about sales – when questioned on how much Altmetric cost for an institution she happily admitted to having absolutely nothing to do with money and only worrying about the product). The reach of Altmetric is increasing all the time, and as well as tracking mentions of your research paper in newspapers, social media now, very interestingly, it also policy documents such as those from NICE and WHO. And the workshop on co-creating health was packed to the rafters, raising really challenging questions for all of us about how we can and should work together with the end users of research to identify key question and set about answering them. Wisdom from a vast co-created evaluation effort by Judith Smith, formerly of the Nuffield Trust but now Director of the Health Services Management Centre at the University of Birmingham, suggested that this was not an easy ride but, equally, was immensely rewarding. This was echoed by Claire Jackson,┬áProfessor in General Practice and Primary Health Care at the University of Queensland, who shared her experience of re-starting an initially unsuccessful research project with a new, value co-creation approach, to great success.

My favourite parallel session was the Health Services strand chaired by Trish Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences at Oxford (and also a key player in co-creating health), who ran the session with a mix of good humour and power to the people: speakers were, she assured them, more than capable of taking their own questions, of that she was certain. Presentations on the relationship between access to primary care and A&E attendance by Tom Cowling from Imperial and Fiona MacKichan from Bristol provoked particularly lively discussion (and Fiona, if you are reading this, I STILL haven’t managed to catch up with you about your work…).

This has all been terribly positive so far, and I know the organisers will be expecting at least some griping from me. So, I think here is the place to come out and say that I shall shortly be starting the “Poster Appreciation Society”. As with HSRN the previous week (where I also whinged heavily about the disastrous poster session), the posters at SAPC were, to put it politely, very far from ideal. Posters changed daily over the three days of the conference, and were ranged behind the coffee and lunch tables in the main atrium. Delegates got lunchtime and coffee breaks only to view the posters, when I spent most of the time queuing for food/drinks and visiting the facilities, and no one was sure whether they should bother standing by their posters as no-one was paying any attention. Presenters, many of whom had come to the conference only to present their poster, felt let down that all their hard work (it often takes longer to design a poster than whip up a presentation) was sidelined. Come on guys! Posters are not second class citizens. Particularly when they relate to unfinished research, they are crucial to finding out what is up and coming and connecting with others researching in your area. My Society manifesto includes:

  • Dedicated poster sessions, at least one hour, preferably 1.5 hours, with no other timetabled activities. And I mean none.
  • Dedicated space with clear instructions to presenters that they must be next to their poster for the duration
  • A clear message to delegates of the value and utility of posters

I think the problem lies with thinking that, by giving more time to posters, you are “taking it away” from the “real” presentations. But in the time I can listen to four oral presentations, I can whizz round at least 100 posters and stop and chat to four or so authors about ones that really interest me. Up with posters, I say.

Anyway, back to the postive. Fabulous social organisation was evident – drinks with dinosaurs (nice) and a proper formal Oxford dinner, you know with all the millions of different glasses and drinks in the quad and all that. That was great. Dangerous ideas continue to entertain and provoke, as they are meant to do, although it has to be said only about half were really judged to be dangerous. A big shout out to Sarah Knowles, the runaway winner with her provocative proposition that, following peer review, we should be required to raise funds for our research through Kickstarter. I would love to know what NIHR make of that but, frankly, with my current track record of gaining grant funding (or not), I think I’d do better to chance my luck on Kickstarter.

I think the quality of research on offer at this year’s conference showed a continued upward trajectory, with some fantastic ideas and innovative methods on display. I’m really looking forward to seeing some of this new research come out in print over the next year or so, and a whole fresh batch next year (in Dublin, hardship…). Thanks to all for making it such a great event.

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