Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Working across boundaries

Posted by Scott Lloyd, Health Improvement Commissioning Lead, Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council
Dear Academic, 
For the past nearly three years, we’ve been running this wonderful public health intervention in our area. It’s seen 50,000 people and everyone says how great it is. We’d now like you to come in and evaluate it. Oh by the way, there’s only two months of the project left and they’ve only got a few measures collected from past service users. 
Kind Regards,
Public Health Officer.

Sound familiar? These instances have happened in the past and are unfortunate and I can’t promise that they won’t happen in the future. However, the frustrations occur both ways. Let me explain.

Research trials – especially large randomised controlled trials – cost a lot of money. They are designed based on the latest research to provide a degree of confidence that the outcome will add to the evidence base of what works. Even if they don’t work, it is still so very, very important that the findings are published and shared (Prof Richard Parish once suggested in a meeting that there should be a Journal of Public Health Interventions that don’t work).

Open door policy (and practice)
My frustration is when I hear about trials that have taken place and have failed to recruit participants in a timely manner or at all – this is one area where us mere commissioners and practitioners can help, especially now that many of us are working in Local Authorities with an even wider reach via colleagues in other departments. We can open doors that may be closed to you.

A few examples:
  • Are you conducting a trial with adults? Would you like easier access to potentially over 130,000 people in North East England? Through the medium of the North East Better Health at Work award, in 2014 colleagues worked with employers who combined to employ this many people. These colleagues and the Workplace Health Advocates that they work with could have been helping you.
  • Want to work with schools? Many of our colleagues – such as Healthy Schools (in some areas), School Sport Partnerships, Active Travel Projects and Local Authority education colleagues – already have contacts. Your information coming from them direct to their contacts will always be better than you contacting schools cold.
  • Communications teams in Public Health England, Local Authority, Clinical Commissioning Groups, NHS Foundation Trusts and elsewhere have a role too. They know the local media. They know our local populations. They have social media accounts with 1,000s or more of “likes” or “followers”.
There are examples where partnerships have worked really, really well. Look at “New Life, New You” in Middlesbrough. Also LiveWell; a number of colleagues have been involved in this during the development and implementation stages and the intervention team are close to recruiting the required number of participants.
My point is – get in touch early as I’d like to think that we can help. Senior researchers please advise your PhD students of these opportunities, especially those new to the North East. Fuse – especially AskFuse and the Knowledge Exchange theme – is breaking down barriers.
Even if we can’t help, it’s always good to know what is going on in our local areas (it can be embarrassing when we get asked about something that we know nothing about).
I can’t promise to change the world and that a joint approach will always work; but basically, as long as your intention is to improve health – I’m interested.

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