Friday, 24 March 2017

Beyond bricks and mortar: re-thinking home and health

Dr Philip Hodgson, Senior Research Assistant, Northumbria University

In a time of continued public spending cuts, policy drivers to age in place (to grow old in the home or in a non-institutional setting in the community) and an increasing ageing population, the challenge to ensure that people can live longer and healthier in their own homes is growing. Yet, solutions for this, when a host of other factors – the development of housing to meet commercial rather than health pressures, future generations with little equity in housing that can be used to fund future care, the prevalence of a belief in a “forever home” – are difficult to identify.

That was one of the core messages discussed at the first ‘Home and Health’ research group hosted by Northumbria University and Fuse (via the pump-priming research fund) last month. This brings together researchers, practitioners and policy makers interested in the impact of housing on health. The seminars aim to foster a core working group, culminating in the development of concrete plans for collaborating on further research in this area. Building on insights from previous Fuse Quarterly Research Meetings (‘Creating Healthy Places in the North East’ in October 2015 and ‘Reuniting Planning and Health’ in April 2016), the seminars aim to take stock of existing evidence on how housing conditions can promote or impede healthy ageing, and identify gaps for further research. Our first seminar explored priorities for research from a policy perspective and we were thrilled to welcome Gill Leng (National Home and Health Advisor to Public Health England) to present.

Gill Leng, Public Health England, presenting at the Fuse research meeting
Gill highlighted the need to think about ‘homes’ (a term which people identify with and encompasses emotional connections to a place of living) rather than just ‘housing’ (a term used when referring to the workforce and describing bricks and mortar). While evidence and action often focuses on the risks posed by unhealthy homes, little is done to address unsuitable or precarious housing. Although most older people own their homes, these are not necessarily healthy. The challenge we face is to identify an approach to housing which allows its support to develop and mirror our own changing health needs through the life course. This is not just a case of using adaptations and facilities, but reframing how we conceptualise the home as a physical location, a part of a wider social environment and a personal / psychological space.

The conceptual spaces of home illustration used in the seminars 
Group discussions focused on this issue (among others). At the personal level, a tension was found between the maintenance of private life and the role of external sources of support. Current policy relies on care delivered by family members, but this can in turn cause problems for individuals without these links. Also, how do we develop mechanisms that initiate people’s thoughts on the best accommodation for them before they reach a point when they’re in crisis / a change is urgently needed and driven by necessity rather than choice (e.g. when people with dementia still have capacity to make an informed choice)? At the level of buildings and services, these problems take on a more concrete form, where the permanence, inconvenience and cost of a housing adaptation to support health is seen more as an obstacle to avoid rather than an enabler in the future. Meanwhile, within social and environmental factors, the current focus of housing policy on volume, rather than quality of public space, and a decrease in social cohesion were both noted as linked factors that could influence health as the population ages. The depth of discussion at each of these levels highlighted the importance of issues of home and health. But to address it we need to move beyond the ideas of bricks and mortar, and consider how we think about and use our homes to facilitate our health and wellbeing as individuals and a wider society.


Our first seminar explored priorities for research from a policy perspective
All of these issues will be picked up in future sessions, which will focus on good practice, existing research in the field and funding opportunities. We’ll be continuing to blog about each of these events and their outcomes, so please check back for more information soon.

If you are interested in joining the group and attending future seminars, please contact Phil Hodgson philip2.hodgson@northumbria.ac.uk

From left: Peter van der Graaf, Monique Lhussier, Natalie Forster, Phil Hodgson
and Dominic Aitken; organising team for the home and health research interest group

Friday, 17 March 2017

Food as a job, life and research: the many meanings of what we eat

Posted by Amelia Lake, dietitian and public health nutritionist & Fuse Lecturer in Knowledge Exchange in Public Health, Durham University

Food is my job. As an academic dietitian and public health nutritionist I spend my time questioning why people eat what they eat, and thinking about what we can do to change behaviours. As a mum, I also spend a lot of time at home wondering why a 4-year-old and a 17-month-old eat what they eat!

Its nutrition and hydration week, which aims to highlight, promote and celebrate improvements in the provision of nutrition and hydration locally, nationally and globally. So this is an excellent opportunity to explore the many roles of food in public health.
Top shelf material

Food is life. We need nutrition and hydration for life and to maintain health.

Food is a thread that moves through every aspect of our life from the everyday to the special occasion.

I read somewhere that the origin of culture was when raw ingredients were cooked. The importance of this event was not so much in how food was prepared but in the organisation of individuals around meals and meal times.

Food has shifted populations and started wars; think of the thirst for sugar, tea and coffee (also known as the ‘hot drinks revolution of the eighteenth century’) and the impact that had on various countries and their populations.

Food is our culture and identity; it is an intrinsic description of who we are and where we come from. For example, I am a complex mixture of Persian dishes, Indonesian dishes and some Northern Irish wheaten bread and Tayto crisps.

Food is our comfort. That dish your mother made, it’s a warm familiar blanket; it evokes memories, both good and bad. It is a way in which we show others that we care for them and are thinking of them.

The party bag horde - a focal point for arguments
Food is a focal point for arguments: “No you can’t have any more sweets from the party bag…” A conversation every parent has at one point or another.

Our social media feeds provide us with ‘food porn’, hands that whizz up magical results in seconds. Additionally, social media and the press provide us with self-styled food and nutrition 'experts' presenting us with spiralised courgette and clean eating advice.

Food continues to dominate our life and the public health agenda on a global scale.

The World Health Organization’s global targets for 2025 to improve maternal, infant and young child nutrition tackle a range of issues from obesity to stunting and wasting.

In this country we are familiar with the concept of our obesogenic environment; an environment in which calories are easily accessible and available and with little opportunity to expend that energy. In an attempt to tackle the obesity problem in this country our government will follow Mexico and introduce a sugar levy.

Despite the issues of over-nutrition and the seemingly endless opportunity to buy food, food poverty is a term we have become more familiar with. Despite it sounding like it belongs to another era, it’s a very real issue for a significant proportion of our population. Oxfam estimates that 500,000 people in the UK are now reliant on food parcels. Foodbanks provide nutrition to those who struggle to feed themselves and their families and have sadly experienced rapid growth in recent years, especially in the UK.

How can research help to address these global and local problems?

Free fruit with every purchase
Within Fuse ‘food’ runs through a number of research themes, from behaviour change to healthy ageing. As part of the national School for Public Health Research, a team of Fuse researchers has evaluated a food training programme run by Redcar and Cleveland Council. To promote the findings from this research we decided to create a short film and this week were filming in a small sandwich shop in the market town of Guisborough, where you were offered a free piece of fruit with every purchase. This small business owner’s focus is food. She provides food to customers every lunch time. This owner had attended the training course run by the Council and decided to make a difference by providing more healthy food.

This is an important step, supported by research. On this nutrition and hydration week, I am sure you will agree that there is still much to be done on this important and vast topic across many disciplines and on a global scale.

Friday, 10 March 2017

How I overcame my scholionophobia... a clinical pharmacist in an academic world

By Rachel Berry, Specialist Antibiotic Pharmacist, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, and Health Education England (HEE) and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Intern 2016/17

“Scholionophobia* – A fear of school, college or university”

So, I want you to picture the day ….. It was a sunny September morning and there I was, a clinical pharmacist currently working in hospital, standing by the River Tees at Queen’s Campus Stockton about to enter Durham University. And I was terrified. Honestly, the last time I was this scared walking into a university building was in 2004 and I was about to sit my Registration Assessment to become a qualified pharmacist. I was obviously suffering from scholionophobia.

Courtesy of mothmediatech & the creators of The adventures of Worrisome Wilf books

“But why were you so scared?” I hear you ask. Well, the answer is that I was just about to start my Health Education England (HEE) and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Integrated Clinical Academic Internship programme.

The HEE/NIHR funded internship is a programme to enable Healthcare Professionals working in clinical practice to gain research experience and skills by working alongside a university academic. I had ahead of me, 30 days away from my clinical commitments that I could use to gain an introduction into clinical academic research.

My fear was based on the fact that I didn't know anything about research or universities. Not one bit. And I definitely wouldn't be able to do it myself. In my mind, research was only done by brilliantly clever people who know everything. I was only a lowly hospital pharmacist. I was pretty sure that I would be the most stupid person there!

Fortunately for me, I was about to meet my amazing academic mentor, and go on an adventure into the unknown world of research. I have gained experience and skills in literature searches and critical appraisal, project design and data collection, statistics, statistical analysis software (SPSS) and writing for publication. I have met so many talented, lovely people who have been interested and willing to help me, even when I probably was the most stupid one there (try explaining Poisson regression and statistics to a person who doesn’t have A-level maths!). It really has opened my eyes to the world of research, and the possibilities for clinical practitioners. My mentor has helped me realise that the skills and experience I have from clinical practice are just as important in clinical research as the skills of doing the research.

I am now coming to the end of my time. I have completed my project, which will be disseminated to local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to enable them to focus on key target areas to improve patient safety within antibiotic prescribing. I am also planning on publishing it, and hopefully this will allow the work to have wider impact. I have been able to take what I have learnt about research and its impact on patients back to my clinical work too. This has meant that I am more reflective and research-aware when doing my job. I have also shared this with the colleagues in my department, and hopefully encouraged them to be more research aware and active, to enable us to provide better care to our patients.

In the future I would love to do more research in conjunction with the School of Pharmacy as I have realised that blending our skills and experiences, whether they are clinical or research based, can lead to more relevant patient-focussed clinical research being undertaken. I am also trying to get other members of my department to apply for the Internship next year.

The 30 days spent at Durham University were some of the most challenging, interesting, frustrating and rewarding I have ever spent at work. My scholionophobia has been cured, with no medicines required. If you are a sufferer in clinical practice, I would recommend talking to academics in your clinical speciality and applying for the Internship; there is no need to be scared. And if you are an academic in health research there is a wealth of experience that you could utilise within the clinical teams; they would probably love to be involved, they just might be too scared to ask.


My thanks go to the team at North West Research and Development who ran the 2016/17 Internship Programme on behalf of HEE/NIHR. Also thanks to my managers at County Durham and Darlington Foundation Trust, and especially to Professor Cate Whittlesea and the School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health at Durham University.

*Also known as Didaskaleinophobian or Scolionophobia.


Friday, 3 March 2017

The challenges (and joys) of evaluating babyClear©: a package of support to help pregnant women to stop smoking

Guest post by Sue Jones, Research Associate, Teesside University

A team of Fuse researchers from Newcastle and Teesside Universities published findings from the babyClear© study a few weeks ago and I thought that I’d put finger to keyboard to share with you the challenges and joys of evaluating the roll out of this innovative intervention.





















In 2012, I became involved with evaluating babyClear©, a package of support for maternity and stop smoking services, designed to help them to deliver the stop smoking message more effectively to pregnant women. BabyClear© was due to be rolled out regionally across North East England and evaluated throughout, which presented a number of challenges:
  • Challenge 1: different research questions – we wanted to know if this new approach worked and would it help women quit but we knew that this would not be enough; we wanted to understand what influenced those figures, and what healthcare staff need to do to be most effective.
  • Challenge 2: ethical dilemma – ethically we could not deny pregnant women a test like carbon monoxide monitoring that was known to improve outcomes to some degree, so the regional rollout of babyClear© offered a prime opportunity to evaluate the intervention using a natural experiment1.
  • Challenge 3: wide variety of stop smoking delivery models – the extent of austerity measures experienced by the public sector has been far greater than anticipated when the research was envisaged in 2011. At the same time responsibility for delivery of stop smoking services has been moved to local authorities who themselves are under extreme pressure to reduce spending. This has created a wide variety of stop smoking delivery models, all trying to provide a low cost service but with implications for the implementation. For example: babyClear© was designed to be a package that could easily slot into existing services, however it assumed a number of systems were standard when they were not, such as a midwife available at dating scan appointments and a local stop smoking specialist in pregnancy. All those Heinz 57 varieties of stop smoking service delivery models and systems within maternity services, each one different from every other, made it logistically challenging to implement the new pathway, leading to delays of varying lengths in each Trust area.
  • Challenge 4: researching within a changing system – due to ongoing changes largely in the delivery of stop smoking services, but also in maternity, and their impact on the implementation of babyClear©, data collection plans had to be re-thought again ... and again ... and again to reflect what was happening out in the real world! 
We were greatly helped in approaching some of these challenges by the publication in 2014 of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Guidance on process evaluation of complex interventions. Using this guidance, we were able to start re-shaping our thinking in terms of how the qualitative data could be used synergistically with the numerical data. We set about strengthening the methodology with a retrospective logic model, weaving contextual data into the mix and with an eye on the mechanisms of impact.

After overcoming these challenges, along came the joys: the findings of our study proved that babyClear© was not only effective but also cost-effective, which was a great achievement in such a short timescale. This new approach, which supported midwives to offer universal carbon monoxide screening and refer pregnant smokers quickly to expert help, nearly doubled quit rates.



The findings highlighted that we could systematically help women to stop smoking in pregnancy which will result in already well-evidenced outcomes such as:
  • Help mothers have babies who are heavier and healthier than if they continued smoking
  • Help more mothers lead healthier lives
  • Help mothers live longer and see their children grow up
  • Help the children to live and run and grow up surrounded by smoke free air; and 
  • Enable them to not be held back by smoking-related poor health
So have a read of our paper, this has the nitty-gritty of the statistical outcomes.

Importantly, soon we hope to be publishing the details about the how, what, when, where, why questions that were the focus of the qualitative process evaluation. Without this it is difficult to know how to implement it elsewhere to best effect and why it works well in one place and not another.

Celebrate our findings with us; if the maternity and stop smoking services are able to use the babyClear© approach to implement best practice/national guidance it can offer the support that is needed so that more women stop smoking during their pregnancy than did before. So keep your eyes peeled for my next blog – which will focus on the findings from the process evaluation.


Reference:
  1. “A natural experiment is an empirical study in which individuals (or clusters of individuals) exposed to the experimental and control conditions are determined by nature or by other factors outside the control of the investigators, yet the process governing the exposures arguably resembles random assignment”. (Reference: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/natural_experiment)     More info: Craig P, Cooper C, Gunnell D, Haw S, Lawson K, Macintyre S, Ogilvie D, Petticrew M, Reeves B, Sutton M, Thompson S. Using natural experiments to evaluate population health interventions: new Medical Research Council guidance. J epidemiol commun h. 2012 May 10:jech-2011.
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