Snakes and crocodiles in health research: who’s eating who?

Some of you may have seen yesterday’s story of the snake eating the crocodile after a five hour duel.

If only these magnificent animals had learnt to count to ten they might now be sipping sherries together, by the swamp, dressed in shades and taking selfies.

Health, social care and research organisations would do well to remember that there is always the option to count to ten. That they need each other more than ever at this point. That, if their frolicking turns to fighting, it is the citizen and not organisations that are harmed the most.

As you may know, INVOLVE’s conference this year (26/7 November, Birmingham NEC) is entitled ‘Changing Landscapes.’

The tectonic plates of health and research are shifting fast. Convergence is the name of the game. Being eaten alive is a worry for many of my colleagues in public involvement.

We need to do more to listen to their concerns and remember the value they have brought to research over the past ten years and what happens when we fail to heed their wisdom. is a case in point.

Today I am attending a celebration of NIHR’s Stroke Research Network which is transitioning to the new local clinical research network structure. Meanwhile, in London, the North West London Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health and Research Care (CLAHRC) is being launched. On Thursday the new West Midlands public involvement collaboration between health and research organisations is launching. It is called PILAR which just goes to prove citizens are much better at acronyms than our professional colleagues.

The organisational changes afoot are neatly told in that snapshot of the week. And public involvement features large in these events.

I suspect that in the not too distant future we will also see the Local Clinical Research Networks (LCRNs) hold their own public involvement events and NIHR do another round of roadshows to connect with NHS colleagues.

But let’s be honest, we citizens are still up to our waists if not flailing in the mud.

So, let’s keep our minds focused on the job. Here’s my five priorities for the next year when it comes to public involvement in research locally.

1. Pushing for the top. If ever there was a game of snakes and ladders in public involvement it would be our drive to be involved in governance. No organisation can genuinely say it is working in the public interest unless it can demonstrate public involvement in how it makes decisions.

2. Inclusiveness. We are a narrow community and that means we can also be narrow-minded. We need to strive to ensure our diverse and gloriously rich society is reflected in what we do. There are over 200 species of alligator and more than 2900 species of snake. How many come to your public involvement meetings!? Reaching out must be the name of the game.

3. Avoiding public involvement snobbery. I can’t stand opera, abhor classical music but I love a bit of punk and have been known to groove to Detroit funk. Does that make me better or worse than you? Let’s not focus on the distinctions between involvement, engagement and participation but celebrate the commonality and how it can bring us together. Snakes and crocodiles can make music together I am sure of it.

4. Patient experience. Mud, glorious mud or water, or sand or long grass. Who knows? Fact is we know less than we should about what patients want when it comes to research and what it can mean for them in terms of quality and outcomes. Answer this, and that Boardroom might just begin to open wider.

5. Head to toe measurement. We have singularly failed as a community to measure what we do. We are wandering in the dark. We cant with any conviction truly answer basic questions such as are there more of us than five years ago. Let’s put some numbers on the board. If we are invisible we may as well be extinct.

See you later alligators…..

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