24 June 2019

What is a Researcher in Residence?

Darren Sharpe is a social scientist specialising in participatory research in the development of social and health policy. Darren works at the University of East London and is a UCLPartners Researcher in Residence in Newham, focussing on improvements in primary care. Darren explains more about his role and the difference it is making in Newham.

What is a Researcher in Residence?

Researchers in residence are embedded research roles outside of academia. I’m a social science researcher embedded in a clinical team, lending an empirical arm to their daily operations. I align it to medical sociology. I’m a sociologist by profession and I’ve spent time in the States, where most sociologists are trained in medical sociology. That’s in a sense what we’re doing here; the role is all about transformation and helping to turn policy and ideas into good practice.

The role is all about transformation and helping to turn policy and ideas into good practice

What issues have you addressed in Newham so far?

My work is focused on a rapid test site for primary care. There are two strands to this work. One is about complex case management – so how do GPs provide the most effective support to patients with the most complex needs who frequently visit their surgeries? We’re trying to establish multidisciplinary teams in GP surgeries who can address patients’ physical health, assess social needs and perform medication reviews. We hope that by co-producing care plans with patients and their families, patients can be empowered to help prevent rapid deterioration. This will also free up more time for the clinic and for A&E wards. We’ve evaluated what this multidisciplinary team looks like and how practices can work together across a locality to identify patients for referral. We also looked at what partnerships the teams have with local authorities and other bodies to form a secondary tier of support for patients. It’s been an interesting job teasing out the learning from best practice, as well as addressing the challenges.

The second thread is around GP access streaming and opening a digital front door to surgeries – how do GP practices see the patients they really need to see at the right time? To improve access we’re trying to make the appointment management system more responsive to the needs of patients, by testing the use of an online triage system to see a doctor as well as embedding care navigators for non-medical problems.

We hope that by co-producing care plans with patients and their families, patients can be empowered to help prevent rapid deterioration

What do you think makes an effective Researcher in Residence?

Being conscious of the relationship between research, policy and practice is key. It’s less about achieving scholarship and more about transferring knowledge into practice and being very acutely aware that it is outcome driven – that is what the clinical team want and need you there for. The role we play is ensuring that the team are making evidence-based decisions in their work, in implementation of new policy, in service design etc.

What do you hope to achieve from being part of the Researchers in Residence programme?

Impact and positive change, ultimately. In my role changes are implemented in such a rapid way, you see change after weeks and months, and you know that your work and your effort is being delivered in a meaningful way. And when a change you test is not adopted, you get to be part of the conversation, you’re in the environment and you can understand why other evidence is being prioritised over your own.

What is the key to building a strong Researcher in Residence/practitioner relationship?

That’s a really interesting question. There’s no one way to arrive at that place of trust between researcher and clinician but as the researcher you need to be flexible and agile and invest time in building relationships. The art of being an embedded researcher is that you are seen and used as part of the team and it takes time to build up that familiarity and that level of trust. In academia I’d be responding to a tender or a research call around a very specific question but here I might get ad hoc questions on research in the work kitchen, or in the corridor or in a lift. But that’s the beauty and uniqueness of the role: you are exposed to the real world and gain new insights and new lines of enquiry from the most unusual people in the most unusual places

What are your future goals for your work in Newham?

I’d like the Researcher in Residence role to continue as we roll out our work across the borough. Roll out will take several years and there will still be lots of learning and adapting necessary for the model to have the greatest benefit to patients and staff. Unlike traditional research, this type of work involves constant testing and learning. You get to really go to the heart of the problem.

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