Through the Research Development Awards scheme, Oxford Academic Health Partners enables nurses, midwives, allied health professionals, pharmacists and healthcare scientists, collectively known as NMAHPs, to extend their skills, knowledge, confidence, understanding and experience of research methods and techniques. Awardees aim for positive impact and improvements in their work and patient care. Many feel that the experience will allow them to begin clinical academic careers.
In addition, Oxford Institute for Applied Health Research (OxInAHR) and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) have appointed a lead clinical academic in each of the Trust’s divisions to develop research engagement, provide training and educational opportunities (including those that feed into clinical academic pathways), and to strengthen the impact and dissemination of research across the Trust and beyond.
Research-aware and capable healthcare professionals are key to improving the provision of healthcare. The aim is to build strong clinical academic pathways for NMAHPs linking into the existing research and academic strengths of the Partners – including two NIHR BRCs, the Oxford Institute for Applied Health Research (OxInAHR) at Oxford Brookes University – and strong partnerships between the NHS Trusts and the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at OBU.
The outcomes of two OAHP award schemes demonstrated the appetite for research skills development in this section of the workforce. In total, we received more than 75 applications and made 50 awards. Delivered in 2021, the impact of the first award scheme was very positive, with individuals and teams acknowledging the financial support as a means of leveraging improvements in patient care and extending their skills and confidence.
In 2022, a second scheme was targeted for research development for early-stage staff, with many using the funds to undertake further studies at Masters and Doctorate levels and well as courses introducing research and clinical trials skills.
The appointment of four clinical academics at OUH supports individuals to make applications for study, for grant applications and to deliver Quality Improvement (QI) projects. The partnership has also focused on engagement across the staff groups, development of this workforce (including research mentoring and role models), sustainable education and showcases of impact. The continuing impact on staff groups will be considerable in terms of staff development, confidence, capacity building and on patient care.
Providing research opportunities for staff improves job satisfaction and retention and brings benefits for patient care. Fostering a research culture encourages individuals to take advantage of opportunities offered across Oxford Academic Health Partners (OAHP) including opportunities from the NIHR infrastructure particularly Oxford and TV ARC and NIHR Oxford and Oxford Health BRCs.
Both Universities offer a variety of educational, research and academic opportunities, with many specifically aimed at this important group of staff. Oxford Brookes has a large set of Applied Health Research Masters and Doctoral programmes (including professional doctorates in Nursing and Midwifery). Oxford University also provides courses covering research skills and methodologies in addition to Masters, Doctoral and Post Doctoral research opportunities. Courses in planning and managing clinical trials, and clinical research delivery have been particularly popular for staff in the early stages of their academic/research careers.
The BRCs have provided academic writing retreats for NMAHPs since 2019, providing them with protected time to write up research.
Positive feedback from those engaged in these schemes is already being received. The impact of the four recent senior clinical academic appointments at the OUH NHS FT is significant as the strategies for research and academic skills are developed across the Trust as a whole.
OAHP will continue to support this critical group of staff through the development of, inter alia, the OUH/OxInAHR partnership and by collaborative work with the BRCs.
“This knowledge and insight gained by completing my first year of doctorate of nursing, not only transformed my understanding of nursing as a discipline, as an art form and science, but also transformed my clinical practice which directly affects my decisions relating to patient care and the quality of care.”
Advanced Nurse Practitioner
“The focus of my PhD is the investigation of the experiences of patients living with musculoskeletal impairments following critical illness, and to inform the development of a complex intervention.”
Critical Care Physiotherapist ICU
“As research leads, we were set the task of building on existing NMAHP research capability and capacity. I am continually amazed at the appetite and enthusiasm for research within clinical areas which has made my job a lot easier. However, the missing part of the jigsaw is often the robust infrastructure to support NMAHP research – the OAHP is vital in providing that support.”
NMAHP Research Lead (Neurosciences, Orthopaedics, Trauma, Specialist Surgery, Children’s and Neonates)
“There is great enthusiasm to improve patient care through research, service evaluation, audit and QI. However, this group of staff often lack the confidence and competence to lead on such projects, by supporting them and signposting them to opportunities available staff are developing their research skills and knowledge.”
NMAHP Research Lead (Surgery, Women’s and Oncology)
Engagement and collaboration with wider stakeholders
The partnerships with the local NIHR infrastructure have been particularly significant in this initiative. Both BRCs and the Oxford and TV ARC provide their own funding and research opportunities for this staff group, including bursaries to help the development of research skills, leadership training and fellowship funding. The support of the NIHR Research Design Service (RDS) has also been important. The Health Education England (HEE) Learning hub is available to the staff group too.
Whilst this initiative is specifically focused on the healthcare staff working within the Academic Health Science Centre Partner organisations, links have developed with other higher education institutions (HEIs) For example courses being funded through the Award Schemes at: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Cardiff and University of Derby.
Some of the OAHP Award projects involved direct engagement with patients – for example a study involving patients who had experienced Necrotising Otitis Externa and their carers – is intended to be the first in a series of patient-centered clinical research projects to improve outcomes in complex surgical infections.
Support for this initiative will continue through engagement and support across OAHP partners and the wider infrastructure working together. For example, the OBU will undertake a robust methodological investigation to address the workforce crisis and develop and evaluate interventions in and across the Partnership.
The focus will on the NMAHPs and other non-medical groups will extended over the next few years and updates of the case study included in our reports and presentations.
Oversight by the OAHP Board will ensure that programmes and activities remain on track. Close liaison between individuals, departments and the key partners will facilitate continuation of this theme of work.