Those of you who follow me on twitter (and you can do so by clicking on the twitter symbol on the blog), will know that, earlier this week, I was tweeting from Copenhagen in Denmark.
Myself and Derek Stewart, Associate Director for PPI at NIHR CRN CC, were there to help launch the Danish Health Forum’s public involvement plan. By the by, Derek has started a very interesting debate on Linkedin about what new technologies mean for the future of public involvement and I encourage you to take part – you will have to join first if you are not a member of Linkedin, but it’s free.
Anyway, here is what I said on the day…more or less!
COPENHAGEN – MAY 2012
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.
May I begin by congratulating you on today’s annual conference. This event is clearly a very important milestone in the advancement of public involvement in health research in Denmark and it is a very great privilege and honour to have been asked to open proceedings.
I am also very pleased that over the past few months and years you have sought the thoughts and guidance of INVOLVE and our partners in public involvement in England and, on their behalf, can I say how much we look forward to continuing to work with you as close colleagues in the future.
Perhaps I should begin by telling you a little about myself. As you will know from your programme, I am Chair of INVOLVE – the national advisory group for the promotion and advancement of public involvement in research – which is funded by our National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). I am also the recently appointed NIHR National Director for Public Participation and Engagement in Research.
Prior to these I was the chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), an umbrella group which represents about 120 charities who collectively fund about £1.2 billion of medical research in the UK each year.
As you might guess, many of AMRC’s members are also well-known patient groups and it is with one of these – the Alzheimer’s Society – that my own public involvement story began, way back in the early nineties. At that time, it was one of the first of our charities to begin to seriously champion the public involvement agenda with the establishment of its patients in research network called Quality Research in Dementia or QRD.
Mogens has asked me – over the next 15-20 minutes – to reflect on the UK’s experience in public involvement, after which I am very happy to take questions.
That is quite some task!
So, rather than a timeline of key events, I have chosen to tackle the challenge by looking at what have been the fundamental strengths that have made a difference to advancing public involvement in my country. I am then going to look at some of our current challenges and opportunities and finish with some ambitions for the future.
To start, I thought it would be helpful to begin with the present day. For, what INVOLVE is, our role and what we do, in itself can tell us a lot about how we have evolved and why.
As I have said, INVOLVE is a national advisory group funded by our Government through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) for the promotion and advancement of public involvement in all forms of research. We define public involvement in research as research that is carried out ‘with’ or ‘by’ members of the public rather than ‘to,’ ‘about’ or ‘for’ them. And by public we mean patients, potential patients, carer’s and people who use health and social care services.
Our aim is to see a dynamic partnership between the public, researchers and others to advance all forms of research to improve the health and well being of the population. That partnership can manifest itself in many ways. But strategically i see our task at INVOLVE as very much to build relationships with other organisations in research – whether they be universities, our Medical Research Council (MRC) or the different programmes that make up NIHR.
We are composed of over 30 ‘members’ who comprise service users, carers, researchers, members of the public, clinicians, people from patients groups who are appointed every 3 years. Currently we have 4000 people on our mailing list, covering over 40 countries. We have a budget of £250k a year and I have sometimes heard it said – indeed I have said it myself – that we are not a delivery organisation in the sense of being at the front-line.
But actually we deliver a great deal.
Our task is to provide leadership on public involvement by supporting shared learning, to help build and share the evidence base through a network of people researching public involvement and by developing an online database of reports about the nature of public involvement and it’s impact, developing capacity and capability with briefing notes, guidance and our annual conference as well as other meetings, and influencing policy and practice not least by informing the discussions that happen within Government through our status as a government-funded body.
SUCCESS AND ACHIEVEMENTS
If I now look back over our history to when we were first established in 1996, I would point to several important factors behind our development as a body but also, I hope, our success and achievements to date. They are:
The rise of citizenship
Given my previous remarks, you will not be surprised that partnership is the first of the factors I would point to. From our inception, the desire and ambition to develop a partnership between the public and researchers, has been the core philosophy which drives our work. It has enabled us to bring together very different perspectives and encourage discussion in a safe haven. This was particularly important at the very beginning when the environment was very hostile to what we wanted to do, it remains equally valued today.
It is also fundamental to how we must deliver. For two reason. First it would be arrogant to operate as if INVOLVE is public involvement in research. It would not only disenfranchise our community but also mean that we would miss out on the many stories out there that would influence and persuade others. Second, given our size and resources the reality is that we can only take forward our work through partnership with, and support for, many others at both a national and local level. That often requires diplomacy and consensus working that does not always please the most passionate advocates. But, done well and done transparently, I believe it leads to more durable outcomes.
Moving on, we have also been blessed with outstanding leadership at both a local have national level. These individuals – including my predecessors as Chair of INVOLVE and Derek Stewart who is speaking to you later – have been instrumental in ensuring that the public involvement message has been heard in the meetings and rooms where it matters, in pursuing the agenda despite all challenges put in their way. There is also no doubt that the commitment of key figures in research has also been pivotal in out progress, not least by our Chief Medical Officer and Director of R&D, Dame Sally Davies, who heads up the NIHR, but also her top team of programme directors. They have been growing and important voices in the room with whom we have been able to join forces.
The third factor is that when the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) was established six years ago, it provided a roof and funding for INVOLVE. Such stability and strong foundations – together with the leadership I have just mentioned – are important to giving organisations such as ours the continuity and guarantee of life that enables them to pursue their objectives, free of other distractions that can deflect them from their mission and purpose. The risk of complacency with such a model is removed by the fact that our contract has to be renewed on a regular basis.
NIHR has also been crucial to the development of clinical research networks in the UK – some but not all condition specific – that provide an infrastructure for the advancement of clinical research, a strong framework around which we have been able to drape public involvement. But I shall let Derek tell you more about these.
The fourth factor is that there is no doubt that we have been as much shaped and assisted by external factors – particularly the rise of citizenship in debate and policy – as I would hope we have shaped them. Since the mid-nineties we have seen the passage of legislation that has enhanced the rights of people with disabilities, minorities and others; that have reflected a growing desire to put the patient at the heart of care and search. That has been matched by an industry of effort by those who commission and provide services to include the public in their shaping. Not to mention an agenda from within science – driven by a sense of vulnerability about its relevance to society particularly in austere times – to be seen to have the public very much in focus. These things have helped, there is no doubt. The challenge has been to ensure that they are not merely skin-deep.
The last factor has been our ability – particularly in recent years – to be able to demonstrate the impact of public involvement on the quality and relevance of research. Two years ago, INVOLVE published a report with NIHR which gathered examples of this impact and we intend to repeat the exercise again. But it’s very existence has certainly helped us to strongly counter the argument that is often presented to us by researches about the lack of evidence. That is changing but I can not help note with some irony that in the ongoing reform of health and social care as well as developments in science such as personalised medicine, the individual patient story, their experience and their desired outcomes is having growing credence.
THE TASK AHEAD – EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED, NOTHING HAS CHANGED
Looking ahead, what are the key challenges and opportunities facing INVOLVE and it’s partners?
Well, we have a saying in England – I am not sure what the equivalent here in Denmark is - which is that ‘nothing has changed and everything has changed.’ For, among our challenges and challengers, there are some old familiar faces. There are also old faces with new accents and feature. But there are also some significant new issues for us to deal with.
I hope the ones I have selected not only resonate with you but also hold some additional learning for us all about our path going forwards.
Perhaps our task ahead is best encapsulated with two pieces of evidence. The first is a paper published in 2007 by Rosemary Barber and colleagues – Rosemary is a member of INVOLVE – based on a survey of almost 1,000 health researchers. It showed that less than one fifth had involved the public in their work and that many of those surveyed were deeply apprehensive about public involvement on a number of scores. The second piece of evidence is from a report that INVOLVE published with the National Research Ethics Service (NRES) at the end of last year. This examined the extent to which public involvement featured in research grant applications coming before ethics committees. It then looked at the funder of each of these.
In shorthand the report shows that just less than 1/5th of researchers responded with plans to involve the public, 43% of researchers seemed to misunderstand what they were being asked and 38% said they had no plans for public involvement. There is quite a lot of variation between different types of research as defined by who the funder is - NIHR funded research performing well, charity funded research applications being average, and industry seemingly having no knowledge that there is a public out there at all!
So our main challenge continues to be individual and institutional attitudes if not outright resistance to public involvement. There is no magic bullet here. Clearly there is much we can do to train young researchers and nurture a grassroots movement within our universities and elsewhere. But what we really need is much greater organisational leadership among research funders in particular. For instance, less than half of the medical research charities in the UK – who pride themselves on funding quality and excellence in science using public donations – involve the public in the governance of this research in any form whatsoever. This must change.
The second challenge also presents opportunities in my view. As you may be aware, we have recently seen legislation pass through our parliament which will mean wholesale change for the way in which health and social care is commissioned and provided. The Government’s stated objective since the reforms were first announced is to put patients at the heart of these changes with its mantra of ‘No decision about us without us.’
These reforms – whatever the commentary about them as a whole – actually represent a major opportunity for the advancement of health research through our National Health Service (NHS) and for public involvement. The legislation includes new duties on all parts of our health service system to promote and advance research. The absence of such duties up until now – in spite of the fact that research has supposedly been a core mission of the NHS – has meant that our hospitals and doctors have often neatly tucked research in their inside pocket rather than worn it on their sleeve, our of sight and out of the way of patients and the public except by invitation only.
This new challenge on the NHS actually means that patients have every right, with the appropriate tools and evidence, to go to their clinician and ask to be considered for a clinical trial or other piece of research. From this greater engagement and participation of patients, further involvement in the way that research is conducted will spring, research that is of greater relevance to their care and the quality of heir lives. I think that it also provides an opportunity to forge stronger alliances with our colleagues across the provision of care services to develop a wider social movement for change.
This goal of greater engagement and participation of patients is a new strategic priority for the NHS and one that I have been asked to take on as the National Director of Public Participation and Engagement in Research. As I often say, if we we want willing patients we also need willing leaders and a willing NHS to make it happen.
Not all think so. In fact many of my friends and colleagues think that there is a hidden agenda here that goes against the grain of what we have achieved already. I completely understand this although I do not agree. My argument would be that surely ever greater engagement and participation has to be the goal of any democratic endeavour. Also, that introducing concepts such as democracy and citizenship into research, is not purely about improving the process , but also about the delivery of improvements in health and well being. Otherwise we are in danger of modelling the behaviour of those we criticise who seem only interested in the scientific pursuit itself.
So I do worry somewhat the third challenge is self-imposed, that we are ourselves our own worst enemies, obsessed with definitions, almost puritanical about what does or does not constitute involvement, in danger of creating an academic pursuit alone, rather than remaining externally focused and dogged in our pursuit of what matters to the public and patients. I am not saying that these things are not important but we must be careful that they do not dominate matters to the exclusion of what we all came into public involvement to do.
Finally, a footnote but an important one, and this is that we live in times of deep austerity as you know. We are fortunate in having strong foundations but it is vital that we do not become detached from our grassroots and their experience where things are extremely difficult. For this is where our strengths lie and, if we are to build a real movement for change, then it must come from the ground upwards as much as anywhere else.
To conclude, let me share some ambitions for the future.
I recently did a video interview for The Guardian newspaper. One of these ‘five minutes with..’ where they ask you some serious questions but also some not so serious ones about the things that make you smile or keep you awake at night. I am not sure whether it is up yet but you might not recognise me as I was sporting a beard and had longer hair – much to my mother’s irritation.
Anyway, they asked me what I would like to see change in healthcare over the next five years. And this is what I said:
First, to see our National Health Service wear what it does in the name of research on its sleeve instead of hidden inside it’s inside pocket as I have said. This means every one of our hospitals being clear that it is ‘open for business’ for patients to come through their doors and to be offered the chance to participate on a clinical trials etc.
Second that every patient and their loved one sees taking part in research as part of their NHS entitlement, that they have the access to the information and tools which enable them to talk to their clinician and demand to be considered if necessary, to be able to make proactive choices about research in the same way that we aspire to enable them to do so in their healthcare.
Third, that all funders who fund clinical research conducted in the NHS can only do so if they are able to demonstrate a commitment to public involvement in how they determine their research strategy, set their research priorities etc
But I would add to that the need for us to take much more seriously the ‘respect and dignity’ aspects of people’s participation in research. That, as participants, they deserve certain things in return not least better information and feedback at the end of a trial.
And finally, it is for citizens across Europe to be working much more closely together in the name of public involvement in research. That is why afternoon’s such as this are important. Similar discussions are happening in many countries across the EU and the UK has much to learn from you and others as it can impart knowledge based on its own experience. Clearly many patient organisations have their own European groups and of course some patients/research ones exist although the agenda seems to be more about lobbying and education and information than changing the way things are done.
But it would be wonderful for patients, the public and indeed research if in five years time we were celebrating the coming together of our insight and passion in a European association which is for and about patients and the public in research. I look forward to seeing you then if not before and would like to thank you very much for listening to me.