Friday, 21 July 2023

How to choreograph a dance between policy makers and academic researchers?

Posted by Peter van der Graaf, Associate Professor in Public Health at Northumbria University and AskFuse Research Manager

Dancing is a key move in public health, particularly if you want to make an impact with your research. Knowledge exchange is not just a science or even an art, but very much a dance between researchers and policy makers about the use of research evidence. To complete this dance successfully and get evidence used in decision making, both partners need to follow certain steps. However, learning the steps (science) or performing them perfectly (art) is not sufficient: it requires instinct and feel for where you are in the dance and why you are doing it.

To develop a dance plan for your interactions between policy makers and academic researchers, Fuse hosted a special session (or dance class) at the European Implementation Event in Basel, Switzerland on 8 June. The EIE2023 brought together over 300 implementation scientists, practitioners and funders from across health, social welfare, education and other sectors in Europe. Over two days through fishbowls, science slams, workshops, inspiring keynotes and oral presentations, participants explored how to create a new normal for implementation science in society.

Our session explored dance challenges (e.g. moving too slow, bad timing, outfit malfunctions, and unsynchronised performances) and new routines in response (see: ‘What did we learn?’ below) that we have developed in Fuse over the last 15 years collaboratively with our partners. In the session, we highlighted examples of creative communication (the art of knowledge exchange), research performance both backstage and frontstage (AskFuse), and dancing together (embedded research) to set the scene for a discussion about what makes a successful dance between policy makers, health practitioners and academic researchers. We invited conference participants to share their own reflections of dance routines they have developed to support knowledge exchange and implementation of research evidence in practice and policy making.

What did we learn? 10 dance lessons

1. Academic researchers need to learn four basic steps for dancing with policy makers (see the Fuse knowledge exchange model):
  • Raising awareness, using creative communication.
  • Knowledge sharing through joint events.
  • Making evidence fit for purpose (localising and tailoring).
  • Supporting uptake and implementation (e.g., capacity, co-production, linking activities).
2. A deviant knowledge broker can help to facilitate backstage conversation and protect policy makers and academic researchers from missteps.

3. Go with the music: as the context and process in which evidence is useful changes constantly, it is an important skill for researchers to be able “to go with the music” based on ongoing relationships with policy and practice partners.

4. Emotional engagement between researchers and policy makers is essential to get a better feel for the music. A heart-to-heart or moaning about bad performances helps you to improve dance routines and hide missteps. Don’t forget the power of cookies!

5. Embedded research helps to develop an instinct for the dance, based on a better understanding of each other’s organisational contexts. Embedded research allows you to be part of solutions, developed with the communities affected, not just report on the effect on interventions and their implementations.

6. Public health is political; lobbying and advocacy are a core part of the embedded research roles.

Choreographing your own dance routine

We presented participants with the following questions to help develop their own dance routines: 

In response, conference participants started to develop their own dance metaphors for describing their experiences with collaborative research between academics and policymakers. Someone referred to their routines as a ‘silent disco’, where academics and policymakers were dancing to different pieces of music without knowing what the other where listening too. Other participants emphasised the need to spend time together first before you start picking music, to get a better understanding of each other’s musical tastes (classical meets punk?).

Overall, participants felt inspired to start to think more deeply about their own dance plans. How would you answer the above questions and what would your dance plan look like? 

Friday, 30 June 2023

One size fits none, watch your language, and keep pondering...

Insights from the Integrated Community Care to Promote Healthy Ageing event

Posted by Hamdi Hamzah, Research and Evaluation Coordinator with NECS Research & Evidence

It was my first time attending an event that saw people (some of us dressed in red) from across different professions – academics, healthcare professionals, voluntary, community and social enterprises (VCSE) professionals and members of the public – come together to share common interests and explore future opportunities or collaborations.

Being new to the health and social care sector and a career changer with experience working with large corporations through strategic human resource roles, the Integrated Community Care to Promote Healthy Ageing event co-hosted by Fuse introduced something that I felt was closer to what was happening on the ground, especially when research and practice interweave. From this event, I have identified seven insights that I felt were worth sharing.

But first... what exactly is Integrated Care? The NHS England website describes Integrated Care Systems as: “…partnerships of organisations that come together to plan and deliver joined up health and care services, and to improve the lives of people who live and work in their area.” They also provide a helpful video explainer.

So, on to my magnificent seven:

1. There is no “one-size fits all” approach to care

Throughout the event, this was a common theme from both presenters and attendees, who continued to stress the importance of putting individual needs at the forefront in providing care. To echo Dr Bethany Bareham (pictured right), Fuse Associate and NIHR fellow at Newcastle University through her talk on providing support to older adults with co-occurring alcohol and mental health problems, support for one individual may not be needed for someone else.

2. Similarly, there is no one way to answer a research question

The event brought together different questions, methods and groups of people to enhance our understanding of promoting healthy ageing. For example, a video presentation by Dr Vanessa Davey, a Research Associate at Newcastle University, on the feasibility of developing a data set in care homes to assist in care delivery and commissioning decisions was eye-opening. You might think that digital GP records could readily be used in one form or another to build this data set, but it is clearly not that straightforward as data from other systems, namely social care, could (and should) provide additional insights into this dataset. Most importantly, while we might take different approaches and target different populations, we are all aiming towards achieving the same goal.

3. Language can have an important effect on how we approach a question

Simply put, are we talking about the same thing? We might think that the terminologies that we are using are similar but they could mean different things to different people. For example, Dr Dan Cowie (pictured right), clinical lead with the North East and North Cumbria (NENC) Ageing Well Network (who also spoke about the Frailty iCARE platform) posed the question: are "personalised care," "personhood" and "person-centred" the same thing for the groups of people that researchers are interested in studying? How we phrase the topic we are researching could also help or hinder what we get out of our work.

4. Co-production of research through VSCE organisations

Local communities should be involved in every activity within the research lifecycle, such as research planning, analysis and dissemination, and not just during the delivery stage of the study – an opinion shared by Greta Brunskill from Voluntary Organisations' Network North East (VONNE) in one of the workshops. Patient and public involvement (PPI) is a useful platform to involve members of the public and co-produce research, but there is the risk of “professionalising” these platforms, which may lead to voices from certain communities not being heard.

5. But what about before we reach a specific age?

There was interest from the audience in exploring personal and environmental factors before someone even reaches a specific age. The idea of testing the impact of, for instance, universal basic income among young people on healthy ageing was food for thought and suggests that a lot of where we are now or – perhaps will be in the future – could depend on factors in the present such as lifestyle, socioeconomic status and access to relevant services.

6. Addressing health inequalities remains challenging

Expanding on points 4 and 5 above, health inequalities remain a hot topic in this field of work. Access to care, health literacy (a person’s ability to understand and use information to make decisions about their health), personal qualifications and involvement of underserved communities were mentioned by attendees either during the talks or workshops as challenging areas. Introducing care or support may not work if barriers to accessing care remain.

7. Keep pondering

The entire event not only provided the opportunity to know what research is being conducted but showed the tremendous volume of research questions left to be explored! One of the themes that came out of Tania Jones' workshop on maximising the use of pharmacy services was the bigger role that they may play in primary care, especially in 2026 once pharmacy graduates enter the job market with prescribing qualifications. This could in turn lead to more questions, for example, is there an inclination for pharmacists to prescribe pharmaceutical over non-pharmaceutical treatments?

While the possibilities are endless, identifying questions that are crucial and impactful may be the first step to starting a research journey and finding the right collaborators. Regardless, we should continue to think about things that we are working on, as Lesley Bainbridge (pictured right), clinical lead in the NENC Ageing Well Network, quite aptly put it, "Some of the best research questions come from what we ponder."

Images: provided with thanks to NHS NECS Research & Evidence Team

Friday, 16 June 2023

The Power of Partnership

Our Top Tips for co-production with inclusive and meaningful Public and Patient Involvement and Engagement 

Posted by Rosemary Nicholls, Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) member, and Charlotte Parbery-Clark, Fuse researcher at Newcastle University and Public Health Registrar

This image was co-produced with members of the public, researchers and film production company Kaleidoscope CFA as part of the UNFAIR research programme. You are welcome to use and share the animation or images whilst acknowledging the source ( when doing so. 

Earlier this year, members of the public with researchers at Newcastle University launched an animation that explores public views of health inequalities. The animation was created as part of the UNFAIR project, which is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

Here Rosemary and Charlotte share their experiences as co-applicants on the project and give some top tips for members of the public and researchers.


"A key factor in the success of this project was the leadership style of the professional UNFAIR researchers. Their excitement and commitment to the study and to us as members of the Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) advisory team was infectious. The timely exchange of emails kept us all informed of progress and involved in deciding next steps. There was ongoing respect for what we had to offer.

"I was confident in my views and sometimes doubtful about the practicalities of what was being proposed, thinking: “This isn’t going to work.” But I found various methods much more successful than I expected and I learned through my surprise that I’d been wrong!

"A risk of consulting people in disadvantaged settings is that they may assume that the researchers will be able to effect immediate improvement in their circumstances, so it’s important to be clear from the outset about the aims and likely outcomes of a project and I feel we succeeded in this. The people we met in community groups emphasised how vital it is for them to be treated with respect and I’m confident that we put their needs at the top of our agenda when we asked them questions.

"There were occasions when we had to reassess our approach and resilience became a useful quality. The excellent teamwork that Charlotte and I had developed over previous months enabled us to undertake a successful review of our methods and move forward."


"When the opportunity came up to co-lead the project, I was excited but also a bit apprehensive as I was new to this type of work and was unsure about how to 'get it right'. One thing I was sure of was that I wanted to involve members of the public throughout the project in a meaningful way and avoid it being 'tokenistic'. So, the start of my PPIE journey involved lots of reading and reflecting about how to approach it!

"Co-leading with Rosemary and working with the UNFAIR PPIE contributors was invaluable as we could bounce ideas off each other and consider a variety of perspectives. They kept me right with the 'academic speak' I would sometimes slip into. I learnt so much with so many firsts, such as applying for funding for this type of work (and being successful!), creating flyers, navigating remuneration, as well as being involved in creating an animation."


Top tips for members of the public (especially if considering a co-applicant role)
  • Be confident about taking up the role, if you would like to do it. The researchers have asked you because they’re confident you can contribute relevant skills and experience.
  • Check that you have the time to commit to being a co-applicant. In terms of hours, the commitment may not be very great, but being able to respond to emails quickly (within 48 hours) and to attend online and in person meetings at arranged times can be important. It’s likely that you will be consulted about suitable times, perhaps by doodle poll, but there may be occasions when you need to prioritise the project to ensure continuity and re-arrange your diary. Ongoing dialogue between you and the researchers to figure out the best approach together works well.
  • Each stage of the project will be well-planned and costed in advance by the researchers and the lay co-applicant is paid by the hour in my experience, depending on the nature of the work. However, there may be occasions when lay co-applicants feel that they can offer further insights and they should feel freely encouraged to check that comments outside the box will be welcome and if so, volunteer their thoughts to the researchers by email.
  • Be willing to ask questions of the researchers and put your point of view across with confidence, but be prepared to find that your assumptions may be proved wrong as the project progresses. Remember that it’s a learning process for us all. Be resilient when necessary and work together to keep the project on track.

Top tips for researchers

Ways of working:

  • Decide how you will involve public contributors at each stage of the project in line with your budget.
  • If working with a specific group of PPIE contributors on a project, decide together how you would like to work. There are tools to help you with this, such as Working Together.
Diversity and inclusion:
  • Remove barriers for involvement as much as you can. For example, provide options such as different online and/or in-person sessions on different days/times, go to community groups and be flexible about timings to ensure it suits public contributors (not expecting people to come to you), or use online platforms, such as Padlet, for people who want to be involved but can't attend the session.
  • Language is really important, be as clear and as simple as possible.
  • To increase diversity of public contributors, networks can help promote the opportunities particularly in public health research compared to disease related research as public health research typically has a wider remit.
  • Building relationships is key and takes time. It is good practice to keep people updated and adapt according to need where you can.
  • Make sure you know how to remunerate public contributors in your organisation before any PPIE sessions to reduce delays.
  • Build in extra project time for unforeseen events.
  • Any challenges that may come about with PPIE work or co-production are opportunities to make the project even better, see them as gifts.
  • Sometimes, what is feasible in the time/resources available may not align with the feedback so be clear that you may not be able to act on all suggestions at the outset. Compromise as well as sharing why you have not been able to act on certain suggestions is useful. Have a way of deciding what you will do if the feedback conflicts with others' feedback is important.

Involving members of the public is incredibly worthwhile strengthening the project in so many ways. Also, undertaking PPIE and/or co-leading provides opportunities for rich learning and skill development for both researchers and public contributors. There is lots of support especially if this is your first time doing this type of work, as either a member of the public or researcher. To find out more about PPIE or public co-applicants, the following resources may be useful:

Opportunities for public involvement:


Rosemary Nicholls is a Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) Representative and Consumer Panel Member, National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Research Design Service (RDS) North East North Cumbria (NENC) and one of the UNFAIR PPI members.

We would like to thank the UNFAIR PPIE and research team, members of staff who helped facilitate the online workshop as well as everyone who took part in the workshops.

This project was funded by the Tilly Hale Award from Newcastle University and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) (ref CA-CL-2018-04-ST2-010).The views expressed in this blog are of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR, the Department of Health and Social Care or Newcastle University.

Friday, 21 April 2023

A public partner’s guide to podcasting

Posted by Victoria Bartle, Fuse Public Partner, with tips for guests from Cassey Muir, Fuse & NIHR School for Public health Research (SPHR) funded PhD Researcher from Newcastle University

Everyone seems to have a podcast these days and there are lots discussing research, but how many can say that they are totally led by the public? I have been participating in public involvement in research since 2016 and believe that it is a vital part of improving everybody’s health, but find that getting other people involved and informing the public about research projects is really difficult.

I was excited to be involved with the Fuse podcast Public Health Research and Me as I’ve wanted to start my own for a while now, and felt as if this would be a perfect opportunity to learn about podcasting and give it a try, as well as being part of creating a platform to help engage the public in research and hopefully increase awareness and involvement. I joined the podcast team made up mainly of other public partners and took part in some excellent training which went through equipment, hints and tips for selecting guests, how to phrase and deliver questions, different podcast formats, as well as recording and editing. I was buzzing after the training and keen to get started.


I was lucky enough to be selected to be the first host for the podcast and was matched with Cassey Muir, one of the Fuse researchers who is working with children and young people who have been affected by parental substance use. Her work is fascinating and I was soon enthralled reading everything I could to prep for the interview and come up with a very long list of questions. As brevity is not my forte the rest of the team helped to cut these down to around five or six questions which is about all that you need to create a 30 minute podcast.

We then had a pre-record meeting with Cassey, where we discussed the questions. Talking to her about her work helped me to edit and refine the questions for the interview. Once the questions had been finalised and approved by the podcast team and Cassey, we set a recording date.

I was quite nervous before the record. I’d been a panel member on a podcast before and had so many technical issues that I was really stressed and anxious by the time I managed to get everything sorted. So for this recording I made sure I had tried all of the equipment and was all set up with my notes, drinks, tissues and cough medicine…because of course I had a cold! Recording when one of the presenters keeps coughing is really difficult for the editor, but Cassey was a pro and kept pausing whenever I coughed so that we would have a second or two to edit it out. We talked for ages and the record went really well. I was able to bring in some of my own lived experience of the topic and this helped to make the conversation more natural and less like me firing questions at Cassey, although I did say “wow” and “that’s amazing” a lot which I was determined not to do as much the next time.

Now to the technical part! Although we had had some training on editing podcasts, the team decided to use an external editor as we wanted it to sound as professional as possible, and none of us were confident in using the software just yet. Listening to the edited version we were able to make requests for changes, but I felt that it generally sounded great, and asking to cut out all of my embarrassing “wows” was my own issue and not necessary. We had to write our bios to go with the podcast, an overview of what it was about, and make sure that the projects and references that we discussed were all available for the listeners to link to directly from the podcast page.

Going live was exciting, I sent the link to all of my friends and family, it was tweeted on the Fuse twitter feed and is also on the Fuse website so everyone can access it. We’ve had over 100 listens and the bonus video has had nearly 300 views so far. I’ve had lovely feedback from my friends and family who said they found it really interesting. My Mum was especially impressed as she now has something that she understands to tell people when she’s trying to explain what public involvement in research is and what I do.

Round two  

The second recording went a bit differently. I had loads of background information to read about Eugene Milne, his career history, his involvement in establishing Fuse, his role in public health and his recent MBE which was all very exciting. I had lots of questions about all of the different projects that he had been involved in, their impact on public health in the North East, as well as his plans for retirement, but during the pre-record chat I decided to take a more focused direction as his responses to some of the topics were just so interesting. We narrowed it down to his involvement in establishing Fuse, what his initial expectations were and how he feels it has developed over the past 15 years; the impressive results from the public health initiatives that he oversaw (including North East tobacco and alcohol control programmes Fresh and Balance); as well as responding to Covid-19 during his time as the Director of Public Health for Newcastle.

Again the public partner team reviewed the questions and the theme of the podcast and we went ahead with the recording. This time I didn’t have a cough which made recording much easier, but I still responded with lots of “wow’s” and “that’s amazing” as I found Eugene very engaging and his career so interesting. I then got myself a bit confused towards the end of the record. I’d skipped a question as it didn’t fit with how the conversation was flowing, but I wanted to come back to it at the end. I’d already said the outro lines so I had to pause for a second or two, ask the missed question, and then remind the editor to swap the order of the last two sections around. I was a bit embarrassed about this, but it was absolutely fine and you can’t tell in the final version.

Things don’t always go to plan

The third recording with PhD student Joanne McGrath has been different again. We had already decided to focus on one of Joanne’s current projects looking at women experiencing homelessness as it fitted in with International Women’s Day and an event that Fuse was hosting for the occasion. This meant that I had a bit less reading to do while prepping the questions this time. They were approved by the podcast team and Joanne, and she steered the direction of the podcast from the outset as she knows her research best and which areas are being focused on currently. The recording has been beset with challenges, technical issues, diary clashes and unavoidable life events that have meant that we have had to postpone the recording three times. Is it cursed!?

These challenges actually led us to writing this blog, as well as the hints and tips below. We have all learnt so much from the first three podcasts and as I pass the hosting responsibilities to the next public partner we wanted to make sure that we were learning from our experiences. At the point of writing this blog, we have now managed to record Joanne’s episode, so keep an eye out for it. Her work with women experiencing homelessness is so important and will benefit an often overlooked group of people by supporting positive changes in their lives.

Our top tips for podcasting

For hosts

Preparing for the podcast:

  • Give yourself enough time to read through all of the guest’s work and discuss with them and the team the possible theme of the interview.
  • Write down all the questions you can think of; you can always edit and rearrange the order later.
  • Have a pre-record meeting with the guest; this helps you and your guest to feel comfortable, and to try out the microphone and recording platform. This can also help to define the questions and theme of the podcast.
  • After the guest and the team have reviewed the questions and decided on five or six to use, arrange them in an order that should flow like a conversation.
  • Write your own intro, a couple of sentences about yourself to introduce you to the listeners and practice this a few times so that you are familiar and comfortable saying it.
  • Also practice the intro and outro sections that have already been created, changing some of the words if it fits better with how you speak.
The podcast recording:
  • Login to the meeting for the record early, have everything you need set up around you, and make sure you have all devices on silent so you won’t be disturbed.
  • Check the mic in advance, you may need a USB port to attach to your computer and headphones with a connector jack. If you use an Apple Mac (or similar) you may have to use a USB adapter.
  • Place the mic approximately 15cm (6”) in front of you.
  • Find a small quiet room that is preferably well furnished to absorb any echo.
  • Have a little chat with the guest, try to make them feel comfortable and start when you’re both ready.
  • Mute yourself if you need to cough, sneeze or drink etc.
  • Avoid rustling any paper or notes that you may have prepared.
  • Turn off non-essential devices using wifi and reduce the tabs/windows on your device. This will reduce the likelihood of buffering during the Zoom/Teams call.
  • If you do cough, sneeze or make a mistake then pause for a second or two and start again (or mark by saying “edit point”), this gives the editor a space to remove the noise.
After the recording:
  • Re-record any sections you feel necessary, or let the team know if you think a section will need to be moved, cut or edited and they can pass this on to the editor.
  • Once the edited version comes back, with the “umms”, “aaahhhhs”, coughs (etc.) removed, you will be able to listen through and request any further edits that you’d like.
  • Write a bio and provide a photo to go on the podcast platform.
  • Help with any promotion through your own networks, and enjoy listening!

For guests

Preparing for the podcast:
  • Identify and share your relevant publications, resources, and information with the host and podcast team, which allows them to focus the conversation and questions (e.g., do you want to provide a wide variety of resources or only those on a specific topic?).
  • Help clarify any specific points of interest or themes you would like to get across about your work as this will help with determining relevant questions.
  • Pre-record meetings and/or emails are helpful, which can take away some of the nerves by building a relationship with the host or testing out the equipment.
  • Ask for a copy of the questions if you would like to make notes and think about your answers ahead of time.
The podcast recording:
  • This should be/is a fun experience where you get to talk about your work with someone who is keen to listen and explore different topics with you. It is a great chance to discuss your research in a way that you might not normally and possibly from a different viewpoint, so try to ease into it and enjoy it. If you lose your train of thought or stumble over your words it is okay, that is the benefit of editing and not being live.
  • If you have made them, have your notes to hand, either printed (but not rustling) or on the screen to help you remember important points that you want to make during the podcast.
  • As this is meant to be somewhat conversational, remember to go with the flow of questioning as some of your answers may spark interesting follow-up questions that you are unprepared for.
After recording:
  • Ensure you have provided links to the important items you discussed during the podcast, which can then be shared alongside the podcast.
  • You get to listen/watch through the edited podcast before it goes live, which is your chance to highlight any changes you would like to be made (although the editing team do a fab job, so there may be no necessary changes at this stage).
  • Once the podcast is live, this is a great opportunity to share your work and the podcast with relevant networks and/or on your social media.
  • Enjoy listening or watching the podcast!

Friday, 17 March 2023

What can be done to improve the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people in schools?

By Liam Spencer, Research Assistant and ARC NENC Mental Health Research Fellow, Fuse & NIHR School for Public Health Research, Newcastle University

Young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning (LGBTQ+) experience significant mental health inequalities in comparison with their peers. School environment is a major risk factor and is consistently associated with negative mental health for LGBTQ+ young people, as shown in research herehere and here. The UN Convention for the Rights of Child Committee has also specifically emphasised the need to take effective action to protect LGBTQ+ young people from all forms of violence, discrimination or bullying, and to improve mental health.

Our research

Our Creating LGBTQ+ Affirming School Environments (CLASS) research project aimed to investigate the impact of school-based interventions (schemes or initiatives) on the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people. In the first stage of our study, we reviewed published evidence, and identified positive interventions that supported LGBTQ+ mental health in school, however the focus tended to be on the outcomes rather than detailing how they were done.

We also interviewed 10 young people aged between 13 and 18 years, nine practitioners (e.g. people working in organisations who had delivered LGBTQ+ inclusivity interventions in UK schools), and three members of school staff, and analysed the data to identify interventions that improved mental health. We used this information to develop a theory model that aimed to explain how, why, for who, and in what context school-based interventions can prevent or reduce mental health problems in LGBTQ+ young people, in collaboration with these key stakeholders.

McDermott, E. et al. Understanding How School-Based Interventions Can Tackle LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health Inequality:
A Realist Approach. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2023, 20, 4274.

Our model (diagram above) has three levels at which interventions may work, on psychological, behavioural, emotional, cultural, and social levels. It explains how school-based interventions that directly tackle dominant cisgender and heterosexual norms can improve LGBTQ+ pupils’ mental health. 

Our findings

We found that contextual factors such as a ‘whole-school approach’ and ‘collaborative leadership’ were crucial to the delivery of successful interventions. Our theory suggests three ways (causal pathways) that might improve mental health:
  1. Interventions that promote LGBTQ+ visibility and ‘usualise’ the presence of LGBTQ+ identities, school belonging, and recognition.
  2. Interventions for talking and support that develop safety and coping.
  3. Interventions that address institutional school culture (staff training and inclusion polices) that foster school belonging, empowerment, recognition, and safety.
Our findings suggest that providing a school environment that affirms and ‘usualises’ LGBTQ+ identities, and that promotes school safety and belonging can improve mental health outcomes for LGBTQ+ pupils. The causal pathways we present are a starting point as theories, however more research to develop our understanding of how school interventions work to improve school climate and the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people is needed. We now need the UK, and other countries, to take seriously LGBTQ+ young people’s rights and ensure they are afforded equal respect and protection as their peers in schools. We may then find that the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people improves.

Read the full research paper here: Understanding How School-Based Interventions Can Tackle LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health Inequality: A Realist Approach, 28/02/23

Funded as part of the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) Public Mental Health programme, the Creating LGBTQ+ Affirming School Environments (CLASS) research project, led by Professor Liz McDermott, aimed to investigate the mental health impact on LGBTQ+ young people of school-based interventions. Fuse is a founding member of the NIHR SPHR.

Friday, 10 March 2023

North East women share their experiences of inequalities in powerful poems for International Women's Day

Posted by Claire Smiles, Fuse PhD student from Newcastle University and experts by experience Marie Warby and Kayleigh Cookson

Presenters and experts by experience at the Fuse event on International Women's Day 
On International Women’s Day 2023 we at Fuse celebrated by showcasing the lived experiences of women in the North East. This event brought together experts by experience, researchers and practitioners who engaged with presentations, shared experiences and devised top priorities to tackle women’s health inequalities. 

I presented the early findings from the ‘Women’s Sexual Wellbeing’ study alongside wonderful women with lived experience. During my presentation Marie and Kayleigh shared powerful poetry they had written for our IWD Fuse event. Their poetry about womanhood and motherhood reflected on personal experiences and demonstrated the challenges and the resilience of women. A big thank you to Marie and Kayleigh for agreeing to share their poems in this blog post and to Kirsty for taking the videos below.

Catch up with all the discussion on Twitter using #FuseRE and International Women's Day using #IWD2023 and #EmbracingEquity. For more information about the event visit the Fuse website.

** Content/trigger warning: adult language and references to abuse and suicide **

Womanhood by Marie Warby

The road to womanhood wasn’t so kind to me. 

I look at infancy and I see abuse; I look at puberty and I see a noose. 

A very painful past as I recall, I didn’t allow it to stop me, I refuse to fall. 

I felt like an adolescent, stuck in a woman’s body, 

Screaming out hoping someone would hear, my body always stuck in a constant state of fear 

Very submissive that’s what I’d become, all I needed was a way to find home. 

Without a map nor a tool, just a woman to teach me from her school, 

A wealth of knowledge to show me the way, I know ill be powerful and independent one day. 

My inner child is reaching out and ready to kneel, this little girl needs to heal. 

With a blank sheet of paper where do I start, it's time to mend my broken heart. 

I look at my past with no regret, for every challenge of womanhood I’ve met. 

To say it’s been easy that would be wrong, and here I stand singing my song. 

Shining a light for others to see, some days I can’t believe it's me. 

Womanhood is such a beautiful place to be, and now finally I can nurture Marie.

Needs to be everything by Kayleigh Cookson


The expectations of a mother is not easy,
I need superpowers and multi-tasking skills.
I have to be a role model and provide a clean tidy house,
I have to budget and pay all the bills.

I need to be very organised,
Always plan ahead every time I go shopping.
I have to be a cook, a baker, I'm never out the kitchen,
And I am a professional at washing.

I need to be brilliant at cleaning,
Wash the dishes, hoover up, pick up mess.
I have to negotiate and play referee,
My patience constantly at test.

I need to be very responsible,
Be a doctor, nurse, councillor, therapist.
I have to be handy at odd jobs round the house,
There's no problem that I cannot fix.

I need to be an expert encyclopaedia,
To answer all the why's, how's, what's, where's and when.
I have to be fun and play lots of games,
Again and again and again.

I need to be a smart tutor,
Help with homework, teach right from wrong.
I have to be a PA, hairdresser, taxi driver,
And always put things back where they belong.

I need to make lots of dreams come true,
I am Santa, the tooth fairy, Easter bunny.
I have to cure boredom on cold and wet rainy days,
Go out and make memories when it is sunny.

I need to be rich with empathy,
Be supportive, wipe away lots of tears.
I have to be a hero and never be scared,
And chase away all the nightmares and fears.

I need to be a care giver,
A good communicator and be able to detect lies.
I have to be an agony aunt and a shoulder to lean on,
I've got to know how to save lives.

I need to be an active listener,
Good at advice and have psychic abilities.
I have to be ready and always prepared,
To provide mental and emotional stability.

I need to be loving and caring,
Tend to wounds, scars, bumps, patch up scrapes.
I have to be a healer and always the best one,
To pick up pieces every time a heart breaks.

I need to be strong, be a survivor,
Put on a brave face no matter the weather.
I have to paint on a smile, show no pain, head up high,
Always cope, always hold it all together.

I need to always have time,
There's no relax, no switch off, no escape.
I have to put everyone's needs above my own,
Oh the guilt if I make a mistake.

I need to never be ill,
Cope with bleeding monthly and raging hormones.
I have to put up with mood swings, hot flushes and cramps,
Then not to mention the menopause.

I need to be forever perfect,
Can't shout or swear coz I'll face stigma and shame.
I have to never go out coz I'll be a bad mam and a slag,
Not worthy, always judged, the one to blame.

The expectations of a mother is not easy,
I need to also then be a friend, a partner, a wife.
I have to be a daughter, a sister, an aunty, a nana,
I am never just me, a woman living my life.

Friday, 10 February 2023

Treats: a helpful reward, or to be approached with care?

Posted by Anita Attala, Lead Adult Weight Management Dietitian from Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, and research team from Teesside University

We all like to have a ‘treat’ and to give ‘treats’ to others. Indeed, the use of food, and in particular what we in public health call ‘high fat, sugar, and salt’ containing foods or ‘HFSS’, are often chosen as rewards. The notion of food cultures is certainly a social anthropological (study of humans) concept, with an example being the use of food in positive reinforcement; using ‘treat’/HFSS foods to reward children in particular. Taken at ‘face-value’ such treats may appear harmless, however repeated use of HFSS in this way has been shown to physiologically influence the human food reward system, and impact on our ability to regulate how much food we eat. This, together with other detrimental impacts, has led to advice not to regularly use food as a reward. Research has also shown that using food rewards in adults can hinder healthy weight management, especially from a psychological perspective.

But what exactly is a ‘treat’? Why do we feel the need to ‘treat’ someone? Are ‘treats’ always a positive experience or can they be used in a detrimental or harmful way?

While working in a forensic service I saw patients gain weight, and often gain this weight very rapidly. I also noted that some staff seemed frustrated and concerned about the weight gain some patients experienced. However, I also noticed that HFSS food was frequently used as part of patient care. This sparked my interest in wanting to understand this apparent conflict.

Forensic services provide care for people with a severe mental illness or learning disability, who have committed a crime but are too vulnerable to be in prison. For example, they are high risk either to themselves or the public, and therefore are unable to live in the community. People in these environments are often here for a long time and are reported to die 15-20 years prematurely, often from avoidable diseases. There are often restrictions imposed on the person and their environment. These restrictions will depend on the level of security required and the risk posed by the patient, and can be directed by the Ministry of Justice. An example of a restriction might be the person is not able to leave the ward.

Limited research seems to have been undertaken around the use of HFSS food ‘treats’ for adults, let alone adults who are in hospital. Yet, it is something many of us seem primed to do – bring (HFSS) food to someone when they’re ill.

The word ‘treat’ conjures up a particular thought of food – which is often high in calories, high fat and high in sugar. What you view as a ‘treat’ and how to ‘treat’ can often have been learnt in childhood and can differ from person to person. But, while it is entirely possible to have a non-food ‘treat’, it’s often harder to think of one and can be more difficult to provide while in hospital (particularly one with restrictions such as forensic wards).

You could argue that ‘treats’, by definition, can only be a ‘treat’ if you don’t consume them on a regular basis. As research shows, regular behaviours of any kind, can soon develop into habits.

Wanting to learn more about the use of ‘treats’ to show care and kindness, particularly in a hospital setting, I applied for research funding from my Trust (Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust). Also, in 2020, I was successful in obtaining a clinical academic internship with Health Education England (HEE) and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR). Both awards enabled me to research the use of treats in forensic inpatient care settings.

Using this funding, I decided to focus on whether ‘treats’ were being used to prompt a particular behaviour from a person, while in inpatient care settings; whether these ‘treats’ impacted on a person’s weight and physical health; and why treats were chosen and if it was related to ideas of care and kindness. Certainly, from my observations this is what seemed to be happening - often perhaps unconsciously – but this research allowed us to evidence what may be happening.

What we found

Our research into treats in the health care sector has now been published. It found that treats were used for a number of reasons including:
  • Being an affordable way to reward someone
  • An incentive to encourage patients to participate in activities, and
  • A way to express love/care for someone.
Of course, food as a bonding mechanism is not a new phenomenon, and the idea of certain foods providing comfort is well-established.

It’s entirely possible to have ‘treats’ as part of a healthy balanced diet, and that the origin of using HFSS as treats may be from a place of nurture, but the advice is that food treats should be infrequent and limited in quantity. While it would appear ‘easy’ to say that those working in institutions, like in NHS care services, need to be mindful of how food is being used, our research findings suggest that it may take a much bigger system/cultural change to reduce the use of HFSS as treats in services. I think the idea of a ‘positive food culture’ is useful here. One where the focus is on preserving and nurturing good health and wellbeing through the use of healthy, positive, food behaviours, attitudes and values.


Anita Attala, Lead Adult Weight Management Dietitian from Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust, and postgraduate student from Teesside University.

Jo Smith, Consultant Dietitian (Clinical Academic) from Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, and PhD student from Teesside University

Amelia Lake, Fuse Associate Director and Professor of Public Health Nutrition from Teesside University

Dr Emma Giles, co deputy-lead of the Fuse Behaviour Change Theme and Associate Professor Public Health from Teessside University

  1. Alonso-Alonso M, Woods SC, Pelchat M, Grigson PS, Stice E, Farooqi S, Khoo CS, Mattes RD, Beauchamp GK. Food reward system: current perspectives and future research needs. . Nutr Rev 2015;73(5):296-307.
  2. Roberts L, Marx JM, Musher-Eizenman DR. Using food as a reward: An examination of parental reward practices. Appetite 2018;120:318-326.
  3. Hsu A BA. Designing for Psychological Change: Individuals’ Reward and Cost Valuations in Weight Management. J Med Internet Res 2014;16(6).
  4. Attala A, Smith J, Lake AA, Giles E. Investigating ‘treat culture’ in a secure care service: a study of inpatient NHS staff on their views and opinions on weight gain and treat giving for patients in a forensic secure care service. J Hum Nutr Diet 2023; 1-13.
  5. Human Relations Area File. Craving comfort: bonding with food across cultures. 2023; Available at:
  6. Mingay E, Hart M, Yoong S, Hure A. Why We Eat the Way We Do: A Call to Consider Food Culture in Public Health Initiatives. International journal of environmental research and public health 2021; 18(22)

Friday, 3 February 2023

Welcome to your Wrapped, Fuse Open Science Blog

Posted by Mark Welford, Fuse Communications Manager, Teesside University

If you use Spotify (other streaming platforms are available) then you will no doubt have received your own personalised ‘Wrapped 2022’. A helpful (if somewhat creepy!) summary of your annual listening habits in one eye-searing psychedelically coloured package. Apparently, my most listened to song in 2022 was Baby Shark - I have a 3 year old.

Around this time of year I do a similar (if slightly less garish) job of pulling together the top 5 Fuse blog posts from the previous year.

But this year is a little different.

It’s award season and this year the blogs listed below were in the running for a coveted gong. Not at the GRAMMYs, Oscars, Emmys, BAFTAs, or BRITs but the (much more prestigious) first ever Fuse Awards!

Earlier this week (30 January), the post with the most views was crowned best blog of 2022 with the author awarded a shiny trophy at our ceremony in Durham *link may contain SPOILERS*.

So without further ado, here is the full list of the runners and writers in reverse order, culminating with the post that received the most views...

Posted by Tim Townshend, Professor of Urban Design for Health, Newcastle University

“...primarily designing around the needs of the private car - rather than humans - has been a disaster.”

Prof Townshend explores how we can plan for a healthier future by intervening in the built environment. From the 'toxic high street', to the green (and blue) spaces in our cities that encourage physical activity and social interaction, positive for physical health and mental wellbeing.

Posted: 13 May 2022

4. Science, and the art of communication

Posted by Louis Goffe, Research Associate, NIHR Policy Research Unit in Behavioural Science

"...building the evidence-base isn’t enough, we all need to work on at least one aspect of the artistic craft of research promotion."

COVID19 has brought into sharp focus that health promotion takes more than good science, there is an art to the delivery. In this post, Louis explores vaccine misinformation, the infodemic, involving the public and advocacy.

Posted: 28 January 2022

3. What support do children and young people actually want when their parents use drugs and alcohol?

Posted by Cassey Muir, Fuse & NIHR School for Public health Research (SPHR) funded PhD Researcher from Newcastle University and Kira Terry, Lived Experience Expert.

“No-one has ever asked me about how I feel in any of this.”

Fuse PhD student Cassey shares her research aiming to understand the experiences, perceived impacts and coping strategies of young people whose parents use substances. The post ends with Kira’s thoughts about contributing to the project as a Lived Experience Research Advisor.

Posted: 9 December 2022

2. Is a picture truly worth a thousand words?

Posted by Emma Adams, NIHR ARC NENC Mental Health Fellow at Newcastle University, and Experts by Experience from Fulfilling Lives Newcastle Gateshead & #HealthNow Newcastle

Find out how Emma and her Experts by Experience worked together to develop striking visuals to share what they had learned from a study exploring access to community based mental health and substance use support during the COVID-19 pandemic for individuals experiencing homelessness and those providing support.

Posted: 25 March 2022

And in at number one our award winner...

1. Universal Credit experiences and research co-production

Posted by David Black, Fuse Public Partner and Expert by Experience. Introduction by Mandy Cheetham, Research Fellow in the Applied Research Collaboration North East and North Cumbria (ARC NENC), Northumbria University

“In the past I'd always found the process of seeking
 help from the unemployment benefit system to be
 relatively easy, but Universal Credit was a disaster
 for me.”

Ever wondered how you could help shape research as a member of the public? In this Fuse blog, David shares his personal experiences of claiming benefits and how this has informed research to assess the impact of Universal Credit.

Posted: 11 March 2022

Below is a photo of David (second from the right) along with the other Fuse Award winners. Congratulations to all! 

Catch up with all the award winners using #FuseAwards23 or see the event programme on the Fuse website for all those shortlisted.

Join Fuse to be in with a shout of winning a coveted Fuse Award in 2024!

Friday, 27 January 2023

Public Health at a crossroads again: meeting the challenge of a reformed system in England

Posted by David Hunter, Newcastle University, Peter Littlejohns, King’s College London, and Albert Weale, University College London

With health policy understandably preoccupied with the pressures on, and changes occurring in, the NHS arising from the impact of COVID-19, implementation of the Health and Care Act 2022, and various strikes among the workforce, it is imperative not to overlook the public health system reforms in England.

Public Health England’s (PHE) sudden demise in August 2020 followed mounting criticisms of its performance during the early stages of the pandemic and general unpreparedness.1 Rather than consider how PHE might be reformed, the government rushed to replace it with two new bodies: UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), and Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID). Like PHE, the UKHSA is an executive agency with close ministerial oversight while still permitting ‘independence in the delivery of policy advice’. It will act as a ‘system leader’ for health security with responsibility for pandemic preparedness and external threats across the UK while bearing in mind that health is a devolved responsibility.

PHE’s remaining functions in respect of the wider public health, including health improvement and population health, lie with OHID. Located within the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and jointly accountable to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the Chief Medical Officer for England, it enjoys even less independence than the UKHSA. Building on the work of PHE, OHID’s priorities include tackling obesity, improving mental health, promoting physical activity and other population health issues, notably inequalities.

There is merit in taking stock to identify any lessons which might be gleaned from the mixed life of PHE and whether the new bodies offer hope to do things better.2

Learning the lessons

The findings from a research project to explore the circumstances surrounding the rise and fall of PHE may assist with the learning process.3 Five broad underlying issues were identified in the research which contributed to PHE’s demise.
  • PHE did not possess the capacity to undertake a testing regime
     of the size and complexity required by the pandemic
    Severe funding cuts in public health spending, nationally and locally, since 2010 meant that PHE functioned with reduced capacity when the pandemic struck
  • PHE did not possess the capacity to undertake a testing regime of the size and complexity required by the pandemic, the absence of which was the basis of the case against the organisation
  • The governance of PHE as an executive agency meant it lacked independence
  • While decisions made by PHE at the start of the pandemic were later considered mistakes (and judged outside the law by a judicial review) at the time there was little information about the nature and possible effects of the virus and limited capacity in the health system which required tough prioritisation decision to be made
  • The sudden closure of PHE without any consultation was widely reported to be due to blame-avoidance behaviour on the part of key actors, principally Dominic Cummins (as former Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson) and Matt Hancock (as former Secretary of State for Health and Social Care). There was also a view that the decision was based on policy favouring use of the private sector and contracting out functions like test and trace.
Key lessons from these findings centre on two major areas of concern: the respective remits of the new bodies, and their governance.


The respective remits of UKHSA and OHID need to be clearer and more transparent if the risk of fragmentation is to be avoided. A welcome feature of PHE was its attempt to bring together the key public health functions that had previously operated in separate silos. As things now stand, separating communicable diseases (CDs) from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is a retrograde move since, as the pandemic highlighted in stark terms, close links exist between them when it comes to those groups and communities which suffered most in terms of illness and death. A syndemic understanding of diseases and their underlying social factors is pivotal in preventing disease in the future and avoiding fragmentation.4


Governance of the new public health bodies requires careful attention. As an executive agency, PHE was criticised for its lack of independence from government which restricted its ability to ‘speak truth to power’. Given UKHSA enjoys the same status, it remains unclear how it intends to avoid a similar fate. The problem is a deep-seated and pervasive one within government. The idea that OHID being housed in the DHSC will allow it to exercise greater influence and have a closer collaboration with ministers could be a good move, or, more likely if history is any guide, it may be overly optimistic. There is a risk that OHID may disappear into Whitehall and become invisible, lacking even the limited degree of independence PHE had. To succeed, OHID has to be visible and have allies inside government.

A further issue concerning the governance and working style of both agencies, especially OHID, centres on their ability to operate effectively across government. Public health comprises numerous ‘wicked issues’, that is, multi-faceted problems that are complex and for which there are no simple or single solutions. Confronting them will be especially challenging for a government which, for all its rhetoric about ‘levelling up‘, remains topic- and department-focused, operating in silos rather than concerned with cross-government issues.5

OHID has a steep hill to climb if it wants to lead a transformational agenda across the wider determinants of health which demands a whole-of-government approach. The hill just got steeper following government delays in tackling child obesity and its failure to implement a national food strategy. In keeping with the prevailing political ethos, there is a renewed focus on individual behaviour change and lifestyle choices rather than tackling the influence on health of commercial interests via taxation and regulation.6,7 If significant inroads into the population health agenda are to be made, then confronting powerful vested interests in, and lobbying from, the food and drinks industry and their ’friends’ in government engaged in what has been termed ’institutional corruption’ cannot be avoided.8 Whether OHID has either the backing from government or competences for such a struggle remains doubtful in the extreme.


Public health once again finds itself at a crossroads. It can either continue to ‘muddle through’ with a broken political and public policy system that is not fit for purpose.9 Or there is an opportunity to construct a strong and confident public health system that is well-placed to confront the challenges facing it. The aftermath of COVID-19 should make the choice of options self-evident. However, as things stand, it is unlikely that the UK’s broken political system with its focus on short-term fixes is up to the challenge. Without major systemic change aimed at overhauling the UK’s political system, a risk of further deterioration in the state of the public’s health may be unavoidable.

  1. Calvert J, Arbuthnott G. Failures of state: the inside story of Britain’s battle with coronavirus. London: Mudlark, 2021.
  2. Vize R. Controversial from creation to disbanding, via e-cigarettes and alcohol: an obituary of Public Health England. British Medical Journal 2020; 371:m4476
  3. Littlejohns P, Khatun T, Knight A, Hunter DJ, Markham S, Coultas C, Kelly MP, Ahuja S. (2022) Lessons from the demise of Public Health England: where next for UK public health? London: NIHR ARC South London.
  4. Horton R. Offline: COVID-19 is not a pandemic. The Lancet 2020; 396: 874.
  5. Pope T, Shearer E, Hourston P. What levelling up policies will drive economic change? The need for a long-term focus on skills and cities. London: Institute for Government, 2022.
  6. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Junk food: obesity strategy falling apart, Jamie Oliver says. 15 May 2022
  7. Ralston R, Smith K, O’Connor CH, Brown A. Levelling up the UK: is the government serious about reducing regional inequalities in health? British Medical Journal 2022; 377:e070589
  8. Draca M. Institutional corruption? The revolving door in American and British politics. SMF-CAGE global perspectives series: 1. 2014.
  9. Ricketts P. Hard choices: the making and unmaking of global Britain. London: Atlantic Books, 2022.

David J Hunter, Emeritus Professor of Health Policy and Management, Population Health Sciences Institute, Newcastle University

Peter Littlejohns, Emeritus Professor of Public Health, Centre for Implementation Science, Institute for Psychiatry, Psychology and Neurosciences, King’s College London

Albert Weale, Emeritus Professor of Political Theory and Pubic Policy, University College 

The views and opinions expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Newcastle University, King’s College London, University College London, or Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health.