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Q&A: South London Inclusivity Advisor Dr Josephine Ocloo

As part of the NIHR's Your Path in Research (YPIR) campaign, which aims to highlight how people can make research part of their career, we spoke to our Inclusivity Advisor, Dr Josephine Ocloo. Josephine talks about the importance of inclusivity in research in addressing health inequalities, why she got involved in research, her research journey to date and the importance of breaking down barriers.

Can you outline your research journey to date?

My journey into health research started in 2003 when I decided to do a PhD looking at medical harm from the perspective of those affected by patient safety incidents. I completed my PhD at the University of Surrey in 2008. After this, I got a post as a research associate at King's College London in the Department of Management in a Patient Safety and Service Quality Research Centre, which the NIHR funded for four years. After the funding for this post ended, I left King's and worked at The King's Fund as a health policy researcher. I then applied for a prestigious Health Foundation Improvement Science Fellowship, which highlighted my desire to see how diverse groups could be optimally involved in patient safety and empowered in this process. I was successfully awarded the fellowship and initially held it at Imperial College London in their NIHR-funded Patient Safety Centre. I decided to leave in 2016 to return to King's College London as I wanted to be based in an environment where I could explore the sociological aspects and social context underpinning healthcare research and practice, particularly in patient safety. I am now based in the Centre for Implementation Science at King’s College London as a senior researcher. I’m also the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Lead for the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) South London, where I have led work to create a new public research panel, which brings together members of the public from diverse backgrounds to work in partnership with researchers to help shape the ARC’s research. In addition to this, I am the EDI Lead for the NIHR Mental Health Implementation Network, a national network aiming to bring about changes in mental health practice.

Why did you get involved in research?

I decided to get involved in health research after my 17-year-old daughter died because of a healthcare failure to manage her heart condition. I could not get open and transparent answers on why these failures occurred.

My daughter's death led to my involvement in patient safety as a campaigner seeking justice for her and greater accountability when something goes wrong. I wanted to change the system and make it safer, so no one else experiences what my family has had to go through. I gradually became involved in all aspects of patient safety, and this work led to me doing a PhD in patient safety and then going into health research.

What are you passionate about in terms of research?

I have a social science background. My background means I have always been conscious of the social environment and how this impacts different groups of the population. For most of my life, I have been passionate about creating a society based on social justice and challenging discrimination of all types. As a result of what happened to my daughter, in which we were denied information, access and treatment for her heart condition, I have become even more determined to change the healthcare system. I want to make it fairer and more equitable for all groups, particularly the most vulnerable. Therefore, I have always been involved in research aimed at addressing inequalities and have published many articles on patient and public involvement in healthcare, particularly about the lack of diversity and inclusion in this process.

Why is it essential to ensure research is inclusive, and would you encourage others to support it?

In my view, high-quality research cannot be done without a diversity of research contributors and participants so that we understand their varied experiences. I have had to challenge thinking that repeatedly ignores the views of people harmed by patient safety incidents or with some of the worst health outcomes. For example, black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, those with disabilities and learning difficulties, and those using mental health services. These groups have often been excluded from research; therefore, their views, perspectives and experiences have not been included in the research produced and the evidence implemented.

What do you think of the Network's Inclusivity Panel?

The Inclusivity Panel has been initiated through a shared enthusiasm across the CRN South London partnership organisations to offer inclusive access to research across communities. The panel evolved from the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity Symposium in February of this year. I am pleased to be able to work with and support the Inclusivity Panel's work.

My views were listened to when I went along to the first-panel meeting, and this has encouraged me to think that there is a real commitment by CRN South London to tackling the lack of inclusivity in research. I am under no illusions that this will be easy, and it will take time to start to change things for the better.

I will support the panel's work, with others, in an advisory capacity to ensure that the Network reaches as many people as possible and builds community trust and partnerships in the delivery of research across all clinical and social settings.

What would be your message to non-research active colleagues from under-served backgrounds about why they should consider a career in research and the NIHR?

We need to have the voices and experiences of diverse groups involved in research to produce high-quality evidence that can make a difference to all sections of society, particularly those most affected by health inequities. We can use this evidence to change and improve healthcare practice.

The NIHR has launched Link and Learn. Link and Learn is a matchmaking service connecting public health and social care practitioners with researchers in the field. Using this service is an excellent way for anyone new to public health and social care research to gain unique insight, exchange experiences, and ask questions. Sign up on Mentorloop. Find out more about the YPIR campaign on the NIHR's website.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.