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Amanda Owen-Smith reflects on her time as Researcher in Residence at Bristol Health Partners

21 December 2020

During 2019-20, Amanda was Bristol Health Partners’ Research in Residence with a focus on mental health services. She is a Senior Lecturer in Medical Sociology at the University of Bristol.

My Research in Residence Fellowship at Bristol Health Partners was jointly supported by Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (BNSSG CCG) and I found the overall experience very rewarding.

Taking on this post was a challenge in the early stages; learning to work within a different organizational set up, with new people, and in the context of different expectations (particularly around timescales for delivery) was difficult, and there were several different lines of accountability for my post which felt overwhelming in the initial stages. However, as a Researcher in Residence, I soon found I had a good deal of autonomy in terms of my day-to-day work and was able to identify mentors who were able to help me work through some of these initial difficulties and find my feet within my new environment. It was helpful to have clear objectives for me to achieve during my fellowship and that my contributions could make an impact in practice.

One of the great advantages of doing a Researcher in Residence Fellowship is that you get to know people working in service delivery in your chosen field. Since my main area of academic interest is in priority setting, it was invaluable for me to get to meet, and work among, the commissioning teams within BNSSG. Having a desk in the building (pre-COVID) and being able to chat to people over coffee was invaluable in terms of building up collaborations and understanding people’s individual expertise and interests. Combining my interest in priority setting and the mental health focus, I was able contribute to several key projects such as the local mental health strategy, mental health service planning in response to COVID-19 and our local response to the NHS Long Term Plan relating to mental health.

Working with the Bristol Health Partners team was a real highlight for me – they have a wealth of experience in integrating the views of service and academic stakeholders in the design and delivery of top quality research, and have contacts with service providers and academics across the BNSSG patch. Everyone in the team is really friendly and approachable, and helped me to work through some of the initial difficulties in communicating across the academic and service-delivery cultures, suggesting helpful tips and providing a ‘safe place’ for me to express frustrations when they arose. The collaborative approach of the partnership was also something that I was able to fully immerse myself in as I supported the application of a new Health Integration Team focusing on healthy weight and have since been invited to act as a Theme Lead.

Having completed my initial fellowship, I think it is fair to say that the fellowship has changed my thinking about mental health research; making plans going forward, I am more likely to start by thinking about the impact of my research on service delivery, and how research protocols can be designed in a way that fits with the dynamic nature of healthcare commissioning. A frustration for service professionals is the length of time it takes for academic research projects to be set up and delivered, sometimes seeking a degree of precision which is unwarranted in terms of day-to-day service delivery, and I hope to take this into account in the development of future research protocols by integrating sufficient flexibility in the planning stages.

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