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New AHP Champion Role 'Ideal Opportunity' to Raise Research Awareness

New AHP Champion Role 'Ideal Opportunity' to Raise Research Awareness

Physiotherapist Dr Christine Comer, of Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, has become an NIHR/Council for Allied Health Professionals (CAHPR) Research Champion for the Yorkshire and Humber region.

Here, Christine answered what attracted her to the role, what she will be doing and why research is important to the NHS.

Q: What attracted you to your new role?

Christine: After starting my NIHR Clinical Lectureship last April I was already planning how I could increase research involvement and raise awareness of the benefits of research for patient-care, clinical staff and services across the NHS trust I work in. When the Allied Health Professionals (AHP) Research Champion roles were advertised, it seemed an ideal opportunity to consider how these plans could be expanded to increase research engagement across allied health professionals in Yorkshire.

Q: Tell us about the application process for your new role.

Christine: I was asked to provide information about my research experience, and to suggest ideas for how I might develop the AHP Research Champion role. Endorsement from my NHS trust was also required, and the support I received during the application process from managers and colleagues at Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust was really important to me.

Q: What will you be doing in your new role and when did it start?

Christine: After the appointments were made, all 15 AHP Champions from across the country were invited to meet up in London in November. This was a great opportunity for us to share some of our ideas, and to learn from key leaders of the AHP Research Champion initiative about how these roles fit into the NIHR and CAHPR vision for increasing research awareness and engagement among AHPs. Many of us are already starting to implement some of our ideas. In Yorkshire, we are organising a Leeds-based research dissemination event with a focus on Musculoskeletal and Rehabilitation care, with the aim of sharing information between local researchers and clinicians to improve patient care and promote collaboration. Other plans include a wider survey about research support, and participation in a study looking at the impact of research activity.

Q: Could you tell me a bit about your experience in your field to date?

Christine: Working as an AHP offers lots of exciting opportunities, and I’ve loved my varied and interesting journey as a clinical physiotherapist and more recently as a clinical academic. I have always embraced new challenges, and have been creative in developing a career pathway that keeps me motivated. My current role as a clinical academic, combining research and clinical work is challenging but exciting and fulfilling.

Q: What experience do you have of working with NIHR?

Christine: After completing my PhD in 2012, I returned to clinical physiotherapy work where there was little infrastructure for implementing clinical research. However, I was always supported and encouraged to continue my research development by the growing team of NIHR clinical academics in Leeds, and by members of the Yorkshire and Humber CAHPR. The NIHR Research Design Service provided fabulous free guidance to our NHS physiotherapy team during the development of local research projects, and Research Capacity Funding through my NHS trust allowed me time to develop research activity within my physiotherapy service as well as to prepare my application for an NIHR Clinical lectureship.

Q: Why do you think it is important for the NHS to carry out research?

Christine: Research is such an important part of healthcare; it underpins all the improvements and developments we see in healthcare, from new treatments and innovative practice, to guiding the training needs of our current and future NHS healthcare staff.  Research provides the information we need to provide the best healthcare for our patients, design future healthcare services, and find the most cost effective way of delivering these services.

Q: How can non-research NHS staff be best attracted to research roles?

Christine: Since the NIHR was established in 2006 as part of the government’s strategy to ‘improve the health and wealth of the nation through research’, it has been driving a real change in culture in the NHS.

Part of the NIHR strategy is to develop strong role models to attract and support the next generation of clinical researchers in the NHS. It also encourages clinical academics to develop as leaders, to inform and influence decisions helping to ensure that research activity and engagement is a core component of all NHS services. Importantly, clinical academic posts need to be seen as realistic and important career pathway options for non-medical practitioners as well as for doctors and dentists. I believe that the AHP Research Champions will provide valuable contributions to these goals.

Q: Is there anything else we should know about you?

Christine: I strongly believe that there is an unrealised potential for AHP clinical researchers to drive national improvements in community healthcare, health service delivery, and public health. With exciting new clinical opportunities for AHPs, including emerging first contact practitioner roles, an expanding range of extended skills such as independent prescribing, and growing involvement in public health improvements, there is a need for parallel growth in AHP research particularly in community-based care to underpin these new roles and evolving healthcare practices.