Stepping back into the light

Posted 2022.06.28

With just one week to go until the HSR UK annual conference, conference committee member Peter Bower talks us through what he is looking forward to as the HSR community comes back together in Sheffield next week.

I am aware my title may be problematic depending on how far you feel we are ‘post pandemic’. Nevertheless, things are changing: next week over 300 health and care researchers will be making their way to HSR UK 2022, with a good proportion arriving in person to re-engage with the community and try to make sense of what has just happened, and what it means for the discipline. We live in ‘interesting times’ for health services research. Integrated Care Systems are looming, equal parts threat and opportunity. The Goldacre report has promised a brave new world of data access for service improvement and research, while health services researchers document their personal ‘road to hell’ in search of same. The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) has a new title, promising parity of esteem for health and social care, and NIHR HSDR has a new director.


So, if you are joining us in Sheffield, for many years itself a hotbed of high-quality health services research (as well as a source of quirky English pop), what have you got to look forward to?


Do you remember the first time?

Like everyone, the conference committee has been trying to retain the good ways of working from pandemic life and bring back the bits that we have all been missing.  We have retained a different model for conference presentations: pre-recorded content is available to all delegates, both in person and virtual, will be briefly summarised at the conference, and then all the time that frees up will generate space and time for a wider in-depth discussion. The diversity of content at the conference is wonderful but can be a challenge - the session I am chairing (‘discussion theme: health care outcomes’ in case you are interested) combines routine data, confounding, patient reported outcome measures (PROMS) and ethnography, which is quite a mix. It forces you to think more deeply about the content and mull the connections for a while. It demands a little more from everyone (speakers, chairs, and the audience) in terms of engagement and the conference committee will be seeking feedback on the format.  But when it works, it works really well - so please come prepared with reflections and questions.


The Look of Love

I like a lot about the HSR UK conference, but I have a special fondness for the plenaries - excellent speakers tackling the big subjects in thought provoking ways.

This year as we survey the landscape (or the ruins) post REF, the first plenary on Tuesday will focus on the ‘I’ word (‘Making a difference? The Impact of HSR on Policy and Practice’) with three different perspectives on what works and why. There is a linked topic for the third plenary on Wednesday afternoon (‘Research futures: rethinking research and innovation in health and care’) which will tackle some of the known weaknesses in our research landscape, and what might help overcome them.

Although UK research is seen as having had a ‘good’ pandemic with some world leading delivery, it remains difficult to translate the exceptional performance in a crisis to routine business.  ‘Embedding’ research in health and care organisations is one pathway to achieving this, and another plenary on Wednesday lunchtime (‘NHS boards: getting engaged with research and innovation?’) will look at how such embedding might work.

Finally, we tell ourselves that context is everything in HSR, and our final plenary on Thursday morning will take us into the greatest context of all as it grapples with ‘Tackling climate change: the role of health and care research’.


Common people

I won’t try to summarise the rest of the sessions, but there is something for everyone, from ‘Green Social Prescribing’ to ‘Emergency Doctor’s Tolerance of Uncertainty’, from ‘Patient safety value of staff-generated narratives’ to ‘Navigating the micro-politics of major system change’. As well as the usual diverse range of research sessions and poster presentations, we have ‘Learning and Development’ and ‘Workshop’ sessions on methods and service topics as well for those wanting a deeper dive.


I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor

This year, for the second time, we will be presenting three people with the HSR UK Future Leaders in Health Services Research Award based on the rigour and contribution of their research, and quality of presentation. This award is supported by Elsevier and the International Journal of Nursing Studies (IJNS), and winners will each receive a £200 prize and one year’s online subscription to IJNS.

And for the first time, we are introducing a new award on ‘Innovation in Inclusion’. Part of my life is spent in the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) which is currently going through a major shift in strategy, with a focus on ‘doing research where the burden is greatest’ and majoring on equality and diversity. HSR UK, the Nuffield Trust, the King’s Fund, the Health Foundation recently published an excellent report ‘Improving inclusion in health and care research’, which detailed the issues facing our discipline, and highlighted the long journey ahead. As part of that journey, I was delighted to get NIHR CRN sponsorship at HSR UK 2022 for an ‘Innovation in Inclusion’ Award to recognise good practice in methods to increase participation and inclusion in health services research. Three presenting authors will each receive a £200 prize, and we’ll be announcing prizes at the conference closing session on Thursday.



I hope that has given you a taste of what awaits at HSR UK 2022 – everyone on the conference committee is looking forward to seeing you very soon.



Peter Bower is a health services researcher and National Speciality Lead for health services research with the NIHR Clinical Research Network.