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Case study: Bringing Research to non-NHS settings - Lydia & Nicky's Story

Bringing research to non NHS settings

 By Lydia Ashton and Nicola Westbrook

We have been fortunate to join the Clinical Research Network West Midlands at a really exciting time when the Network is extending and developing its support into health and social care research taking place in non NHS settings. We both come from different professional backgrounds and whilst remote working comes with many benefits it can still make it a challenge to meet new people in the Network. We thought this would be a great opportunity to introduce ourselves, what brought us to this role and our experiences of starting as part of the Integrated Care Delivery Team (ICDT) during the pandemic.

Lydia’s experience: Starting a new job during a pandemic

The usual first day nerves of arriving on time and walking into a room full of new people all eyes on you to find you're still wearing your PJ bottoms had turned into having multiple laptops on stand by, just in case the dreaded update starts, and making sure there's no unwanted visitors in the background
of your camera!

My induction began with a Google meet between myself and my line manager Lynda Wagstaff, who soon relaxed any nerves I had. But for me the realisation soon hit, I had gone from 13 hour shifts on my feet to being sat in front of a screen attempting to take in detail after detail about the NIHR and how the organisation works, it was going to be a huge adjustment. Lynda ensured I was taking regular breaks and I utilised my lunch time to enjoy an afternoon walk which I found made me much more productive in the afternoons.

Lynda introduced me (via email) to lots of members of the team - I would meet with them individually over Google meet. This seemed to make it more difficult to understand the way in which the team all worked together, not to mention how much you have to rely on your line manager to make those introductions. Imagine you’re in the office, it’s more visual, seeing who connects with each other and striking up that natural conversation, finding out about how each employee plays an integral role and building on those relationships each day. By meeting each person individually I initially found it hard to connect those dots but I found by utilising a mind map to outline the teams, people within them and their roles, the dots started to connect. Also, finding out about all the tools in place to connect people such as the Buddy App and slotting in time for face to face meetings has encouraged strong working relationships.

Overall, I have been able to see the many benefits of the working from home model. I am extremely grateful for the time I have been given to develop my learning and I look forward to being able to utilise this out in practice. Not to mention, I can now turn up to work wearing my PJ bottoms and no one ever has to know!

Nicky’s experience: ‘Like a nurse, but not a nurse but also a nurse’

How it began: I started in post in late 2021 as part of the new, exciting and freshly named ICDT. I am completely new to the NIHR and I am going to start with a small confession. It wasn’t until halfway through my interview that I realised that I was applying for a post as a CRP. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't that I hadn’t researched the role, this job was my perfect fit, just what I had been looking for - it was just that I hadn't fully reflected on the distinction between the role of the ‘research nurse’ and the ‘research practitioner’. I think this was in part due to the fact that I also happen to hold a nursing qualification.

Having worked hard for this, a large part of my identity is tied up in being a nurse however I have also spent time nursing and working outside of the NHS so I recognise that the lines between the two roles are blurred.

New to the NIHR structure I also did not have a full understanding of the history that lies behind the development of the practitioner role. Not long after I started I was invited to join a CRP community group on Linked In which opened my eyes to the breadth of this role, to the diversity of delivery roles within research teams and the wide educational and employment backgrounds that health researchers come from.

Where do I fit? My background is in Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Public Health School Nursing so I have spent a large part of my career working in the community, negotiating the muddy waters often referred to as Health and Social Care. As a general rule, understanding the relationship between the two remains patchy, what is a health care need and what is a social care need? Where does one end and another begin?

For me the distinction between the two is unclear and often helpful. Health and social care are very much interdependent and promoting optimal health outcomes for diverse communities means strengthening the relationship between the two. With nursing roles increasingly located outside of the NHS, there were many days I spent working as a School Nurse where I felt more like a Social Worker.

Working with people, communities, families there is no clear distinction between their health and social care needs, a need is a need that requires support no matter what we label it.

Despite improvement in recent years to a more joined up way of working there is still more work to be done to bridge the gap between health and social care particularly in the field of research.

New opportunities: Working in children's social care it was evident to me that research in this sector is far less common than in the health sector. There simply isn't the infrastructure to support research to take place but that doesn't mean that there isn't the need, desire and drive for research within this community and this is where the ICDT comes into its own.

Within this sector nothing fits into nice neat boxes, lines and boundaries are constantly blurred, what works in one area won't necessarily work in another and I have come to realise that flexibility and accessibility are key attributes to the way that we need to work in order to bridge this gap.

This can sometimes lead to uncertainty, breaking the mould, but it also leads to great opportunity and breaking down boundaries for better health and outcomes which ultimately is what everybody wants. So I am embracing flexibility head on, even down to my job title.

I’m a Clinical Research Practitioner, which is like a nurse but not a nurse (but also a nurse) and I am extremely excited and proud to be here working as part of the ICDT.

Thank you for taking the time to read our experiences. We hope to have opened your eyes to some of the challenges we have faced while starting in our new positions and some of the ways we are overcoming them as part of this new team. Thanks to everyone who has welcomed us openly and special thanks to Lynda Wagstaff for being an amazing support system throughout our induction process.