What are the benefits when health and social care staff get involved in applied health research?


by Andria Hanbury

Back in 2019, we wrote our first blog about the potential benefits for staff getting involved in applied health research with colleagues from the Yorkshire and Humber Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (August 2019 – Yorkshire and Humber Patient Safety Research Collaboration (nihr.ac.uk)

This work was important to us in the Yorkshire and Humber ARC Improvement Science team because previous work had indicated that there was an association between staff involvement in research and lower patient mortality and higher patient satisfaction (e.g., Harding et al, 2017). We also saw the potential for involvement in research to support health and social care (HSC) staff wellbeing and retention. Nonetheless, despite the growing number of initiatives to increase health and social care (HSC) staff involvement in research (e.g., by NIHR and Health Education England), actually, the literature reports more organisational level benefits, and less on the benefits for staff themselves. 

At the time of that first blog, we were promoting a survey that we had developed to explore the benefits of being involved in research for HSC staff themselves. The survey was completed predominantly by applied health research staff and PhD students, and highlighted benefits such as an opportunity to think critically and identify problems with current practice, and an opportunity to be more engaged at work and to try something new. But this was largely what researchers perceived to be the benefits or had been told by health and social care staff to be the benefits, rather than direct reports by HSC staff themselves. We identified a gap in the evidence base and, working in collaboration with the Cross-ARC Implementation and Improvement Science Theme Leaders network (CrIISTL NW), we decided to embark on a scoping review to understand the benefits that health and social care staff (whether they be participants in or co-designers of, a research study or clinical academics on a fellowship scheme) perceived to be associated with their involvement in research. The ultimate aim of this review was to understand the different ways in which HSC staff can be involved in research and the variety of benefits associated with this involvement. This knowledge has important implications for those funding research, those managing clinical staff (and making decisions about whether or not to support their involvement in research) as well as researchers themselves who would better appreciate how to optimise research to deliver on these benefits for staff.

What we did

Our scoping review covered published and grey literature reports, blogs, opinion pieces and articles on the benefits for HSC staff themselves of being involved in applied health research. From these records, we identified and summarised information of interest which included: 

  • Professional role (e.g., medics, nurses, allied health professionals- AHPs) and care setting.
  • Type of involvement (e.g., clinical academic roles, internships, research participation). 
  • Reported benefits. 

We shared the benefits extracted from each record with four research active health care staff working within the Yorkshire Quality and Safety Research Group. They distilled the information into themes, which we then applied back to the benefits reported in each record, such that we ended up with a coded set of ‘benefit themes’ for each record. We then compared the frequency of occurrence of the themes between:

  • The more intense clinical academic roles versus all other roles
  • Initiatives which were centrally funded (for example, by HEE or the NIHR) versus not centrally funded (e.g., NHS and charity based initiatives).

What did we find?

Our review identified 50 records reporting on the benefits of research involvement for HSC staff. The key characteristics of these, looking across these records is the range of:

  • HSC staff: nurses (10 records), AHPs (5 records), medics (4 records), midwives (3 records) and pharmacists (2 records). The majority reported mixed populations (25 records) 
  • Care settings: the majority covered mixed settings (15 records) but single settings included mental health (2 records) paediatric care (4 records) and primary care (3 records).
  • Types of involvement: from research participation (4 records), through to recruitment or data collection (3 records), training (4 records) and clinical academic roles (21 records).

Our research active colleagues identified these six ‘benefits themes’, listed in order of frequency of occurrence from most frequently to least frequently reported:

The table highlights the full range of benefits health and social care staff can and do experience from being involved in research. This clearly extends beyond career opportunities, to also include personally felt benefits, such as job satisfaction and research involvement acting as a buffer to the stress of daily clinical practice. Interestingly, when comparing the frequency of occurrence of these themes by type of involvement (clinical academic roles versus other types of involvement), the findings were broadly similar; both groups gave examples of the six benefits. However, clinical academic focussed records reported more examples of how research involvement had helped build connections (67% compared with 35%), and less examples of how it had provided opportunities for learning (24% compared with 54%). These findings suggest that even lower levels of involvement, such as participation in research or helping with recruitment, can have benefits for staff.

What next?

This work is being written up for publication, and the findings will be shared with those involved in building research capacity amongst staff, as well as funders of research, and researchers. The CrIISTL network is keen to open up the findings further, by conducting richer qualitative research with HSC staff, using case studies showcasing different types of involvement, drawn from across the YHARC.

We are giving a ‘Lunch and learn’ seminar on this work; to sign up, please see here.

We are also keen to share an opportunity for HSC to engage in research through a Patient Safety Research Award, which is led by colleagues at the Patient safety Research Centre. Please see here for further details:

Patient Safety Research Development Award – Yorkshire and Humber Patient Safety Research Collaboration (nihr.ac.uk)

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