Richard Meade: Research must be shared to promote debate and shape policy

Richard Meade is Marie Curies Head of Policy & Public Affairs Scotland.
Richard Meade is Marie Curies Head of Policy & Public Affairs Scotland.
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Research is vital in ­supporting improvement and practice, yet, far too often, good research is restricted to academic journals without ­cutting through to the people that could ultimately benefit. In fact, we know that it takes, on average, 17 years for health research to become practice. Research can play a much bigger role than the one it currently does in ­supporting decisions around public policy and ways of working.

For many researchers, seeing their work published in the most relevant journal and receiving a high number of citations is enough. While it’s important to secure ­academic recognition there are many equally important audiences such as the government, public bodies, third sector organisations and the ­public. We do see some research hitting the ­headlines, but this is nearly always framed within the context of the ­latest ‘medical breakthrough’, which barely scratches the surface of what compelling research stories are out there.

We need to see research discussed much more frequently within the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament to help inform legislation and public policy. This does happen, but often only representing a small sample of the research that exists on the given subject being ­deliberated. It’s also sometimes limited to research which is being championed by a cause, politician or organisation.

For organisations like Marie Curie, we look to research to inform what we say publicly, as well as our own practice, but we can do more to ensure that we are considering all that is out there.

For research to be considered more widely, it needs to be a genuine partnership with researchers and universities working harder to share their findings. The onus is also on policy-makers and practitioners to actively seek out research findings through establishing good networks and ­relationships.

In the palliative and end of life care research community in Scotland, there has been an acceptance that more needs to be done to reach out beyond the usual academic journals and conferences. There has been a spate of activity, which has seen researchers work in partnership with many key stakeholders including the Scottish Government, the third ­sector, NHS and other statutory organisations.

One of the commitments of the Scottish Government’s Strategic Framework for Action on Palliative and End of Life Care was the ­establishment of a research forum to bring ­together academics, ­policy-makers, ­practitioners and service managers to discuss and share research findings. It has already seen attendance at meetings grow from 40 to nearly 100 from the first open meeting in May 2016 to the most recent meeting.

Last week, in Edinburgh, Marie Curie, in partnership with the Scottish Government and the Research Forum for Palliative and End of Life Care, held a seminar exploring existing research in Scotland and how it can be used to inform practice and policy.

This seminar brought together ­academics, clinical experts, senior managers and practitioners to ­discuss existing research and the lessons that could be learned, how it might shape practice and policy for the future, as well as where there are gaps in knowledge and understanding.

It is hoped this might inform future research and study, as well as build relationships and networks to facilitate collaborations between those who produce research and those who use it.

Importantly, the seminar was focused on supporting the Scottish Government achieve its ambition that everyone who needs palliative care will have access to it by 2021.

At the event, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Shona Robison MSP, gave a very firm commitment to supporting research to inform frontline practice for those people living with a terminal illness and approaching the end of life.

She said “Research can be an end in itself – though my interest is in how it can assist us to support people in ­living the lives they want to live, right up to their death.”

We now need to make this more of a reality. We definitely need to do more to bring research to the fore when developing public policy and improving practice in our health and social care services. Bringing together academics, practitioners and ­policy-makers frequently in forums where research and findings can be discussed is definitely a big step forward, but we need to see much more of this.

Richard Meade is Marie Curie’s Head of Policy & Public Affairs Scotland. Visit mariecurie.org.uk