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Case study: Lee Tomlinson on how the 70@70 NIHR Senior Nurse and Midwife Research Leader Programme helped further develop her career

Lee explains how the 70@70 programme helped further develop her career and why colleagues across Kent, Surrey and Sussex should consider applying for the new NIHR Senior Research Leader Programme for nurses and midwives.

In December 2020, Lee Tomlinson, along with 70@70 senior nurse research leader colleagues from NHS community trusts across England, launched a James Lind Alliance (JLA) Priority Setting Partnership (PSP). The PSP project was set up to gather, rank and prioritise views from people involved in, or affected by community nursing to identify the top 10 research priorities for community nursing.

Lee said: “When I applied to join the 70@70 programme it was one of my aspirations to set-up a community nursing PSP. The potential breadth of research that could be carried out around community nursing is vast, but there are few studies at the moment. We need to have more studies available in order to give confidence to community nurses to engage with research. This will become more important with the increasing emphasis on out-of-hospital care.

"At the beginning of the programme, I reached out to other 70@70 nurses who worked in community settings. Four of us jointly led the PSP project which offered opportunities for excellent collaboration across England. We also networked with areas of the NIHR and through the Community Healthcare Alliance of Research Trusts (CHART), as well as working with the James Lind Alliance." The project was funded by the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) Oxford and Thames Valley.

Two surveys were used to gather views and opinions from a wide range of people involved in, or affected by community nursing, on where research is most needed. The first survey was for patients, carers, their families, and for healthcare staff including community nurses. They were asked to identify the difficulties and challenges within community nursing. The results were sent to the steering committee who, with guidance from an information specialist, grouped the topics under headings and then put to one side any topic where research has already been done.

The second survey asked respondents to prioritise the topics. The results of the surveys were taken to a final workshop in September, where the top 10 research priorities for community nursing were determined. Patients, carers, family members, community nurses, and associated health professionals attended the meeting that took place online, over two days. Key representatives from NHS England, NIHR, NIHR Clinical Research Network, NIHR Applied Research Collaboration and Higher Education Institute colleagues attended for the duration of the workshops to listen to the conversations as observers.

Lee said: “We wanted senior people to be in the meeting so they could hear the discussion first hand and understand the issues and ideas directly. At the final steering group in October the top 10 research topics were decided. Read the top 10 priorities about further details on the ARC Oxford and Thames Valley website.

“The whole process was conducted online due to the pandemic. We were not able to go to GP surgeries, community centres or places of worship to display posters. When gathering views from the surveys, we looked at gender, age and ethnicity. We struggled to get ethnic minority groups to contribute so their responses have been weighted. Also the majority of the workforce is female which we also took into account. All data has been looked at so in no way can it be seen as tokenistic.”

Lee has also co-authored two publications about the work done with James Lind priority setting partnership:

As part of her 70@70 role, Lee also undertook a six-month internship with the Chief Nursing Office (CNO) and NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI). The purpose of the internship was to provide individuals with experience of working with colleagues at NHSEI on short, medium- and long-term projects that relate to the national nursing research strategic plan and associated policy and practice. This included working within the Policy, Research and System Transformation team on the nursing contribution to the Department of Health and Social Care national vision for clinical research. This involved supporting work undertaken by the CNO Research Strategy Advisory Board and the CNO Professional Shared Decision-making Council (Research).

Lee said: “This internship was a fantastic opportunity for me and my fellow interns to have input into the national nursing research strategy at the highest level, and it gave NHSEI an opportunity to listen to the experiences and priorities of community nurses.”

Lee Tomlinson and her NIHR 70@70 Senior Nurse Research Leader colleagues Dr Fiona Maxton and Dr Tootie Bueser wrote a piece for the Nursing Times about their internship. The Chief Nursing Officer for England’s strategic plan for research was published in November 2021.

Six months after the programme finished, where is Lee now?

“I am now working as a Community Nursing Fellow in NHS England on a secondment, co-leading on research and innovation as part of the Annual Community Nursing programme.” She said, “This role has allowed me to work with incredible colleagues, the other 13 Fellows working in community nursing. This has extended my network further and increases the links with the CNO Strategic plan for Research, CHART and my own community trust.

“There is so much activity in progress for community nursing research. It's very exciting. My wish is that we have more community colleagues taking part in the programme to keep up momentum and network further.

The new NIHR Senior Research Leader Programme for nurses and midwives

“The new NIHR Senior Research Leader Programme for nurses and midwives is an incredible opportunity to give senior research leaders the gift of time, space and an incredible network of research colleagues to progress valuable initiatives for the benefit of nursing and midwifery research locally and nationally. I encourage nurse and midwife colleagues to apply for a place.”

Visit the NIHR website for information about the new NIHR Senior Research Leader Programme for nurses and midwives. Applications should be submitted by 1.00pm on Monday 24 October 2022.