Policy researchers need to be more forward thinking and other lessons we learnt at the ninth annual HSRUK Symposium

The CCHSR team was out in force at the ninth annual HSRUK Symposium in Nottingham on 13-14 July 2016. Eight members of the team presented nine posters and delivered five talks from six different projects (Improve, Outpatient services and primary care, Advancing Community Hospitals, Better Obstetrics in Rural Nigeria Study, Q evaluation, Public Perception of Security and Privacy and Professor Mary Dixon-Woods delivered one of the second day’s plenary on ‘Why is improving Health Care so hard?’.

The recent decision by the UK to leave the EU made for an interesting backdrop to proceedings. In her informative plenary, Anita Charlesworth, Director of Research and Economics at the Health Foundation, highlighted both the increased financial challenges that the NHS is likely to face if GDP falls (it was a stark reminder of just how closely the state of our public services is tied to the state of our economy) and increased staffing pressures that may occur if there there is lower recruitment of EU workers. These challenges require innovative solutions and Margo Edmunds, Vice President AcademyHealth, and Professor Gerald Wistow, LSE, chaired an interesting plenary on the integration of health and social care, although as Professor Roland suggests ‘shortermism’ has so far proved a barrier to better integration within the NHS and that when discussing integration we also need to consider breaking barriers between primary and secondary care. The Q initiative, was another potential mechanism for helping generate improvement enthusiastically promoted by Q member Professor Catherine Pope, who praised the Social network Analysis undertaken by RAND Europe as part of the first year evaluation of Q.

The highlight of the conference for all of us was the first days plenary by Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Officer at the Department of Health. He talked candidly about the need for policy researchers to be more forward thinking, suggesting that many of tomorrow’s problems are easily predictable today; an ageing population, higher burden of multi-morbidites, a mismatch between service provision and need. Yet so much research he argued is conducted in urban centres where demographics are relatively stable and the impact of ageing and multi-morbidity may be less strongly felt as a result of young professionals moving into city centres and older people moving out. Researchers also need to have a better grasp of the policy context. Policy makers he pointed out have to make decisions fast – they think in weeks (months if you’re lucky) – and they need all the evidence they can get. This requires more evidence synthesis drawing on a multidisciplinary perspective and researchers should be less reticent in making recommendations. The need for us as researchers to better engage with our audience was neatly brought to the fore in the final plenary by Judith Smith from the University of Birmingham – impact is so much more than the REF she ventured! And if you need any further inspiration of how to engage with your audience I leave you with some sage advice from our very own Emeritus Professor Martin Roland.

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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.