What's in store for HSR UK Conference 2021?

Author Helen Mthiyane
Posted 2021.07.01

Peter BowerPeter Bower gives a taste of what you can expect (and which sessions not to miss) at this year's online conference

Health services research has few axioms, but the idea that large scale change is difficult is probably one. The COVID pandemic has torpedoed that idea, and we are all running to catch up to understand the impact (both good and bad) of turning health services delivery on its head.

In its own small way, the conference experience has also been transformed, and HSR UK is no different. Last year the conference was unceremoniously booted online yet remained a success. This year it stays virtual, but with the benefit of a year’s experience to smooth those rough edges and ‘build back better’. I am sure ‘you are on mute’ will remain a popular line throughout, but there are some interesting changes afoot.

One of the most exciting is a change to the standard way of doing conference parallel sessions. This year the presentations are short, pre-recorded videos, which delegates can consume in their own time before the conference (conference tip for the time-challenged – many videos work well at 1.25 and 1.5 speed). The sessions themselves will see presenters do a short summary, with a focus as much on links between the talks before we move into a broad discussion.

One of the sessions I am chairing has 4 fascinating talks on ‘Professional Roles and Identities’ (other sessions are available, but you’d be a fool to miss it). As is common with health services research they are diverse, taking in the changing roles of clinical academics, locums, dentists, and the impact of new technology on staff. However, viewing them beforehand with some time to mull them over gives you a better overview, and you start to see linking themes -  for example, that most seemed to relate to professionals 'at the margins', and all discussed the support required to cross professional boundaries without conflict. Of course, that is just one take, and delegates may take us in an entirely different direction. To make this work, we will need good chairs (gulp) and an engaged group – but it promises to be a fascinating experiment.

So do get onto the conference platform when the HSR UK 2021 email arrives and view the videos – a few days allowing the ideas to percolate will hopefully lead to some fascinating discussions and productive networking.

The rest of the conference provides the traditional mix of high quality plenaries and workshops. A key theme of the pandemic is that ‘no one is safe until we are all safe’, and we will have sessions on global health and diversity in research. We will hear about lessons for evidence and policy from the pandemic, with some faces that have become familiar on our screens over the last months. The idea of ‘levelling up’ will get a critical outing, and we will get to consider how Long COVID challenges our way of delivering services and doing research. And it is good to see HSR UK continue to fly the flag for workforce research, given the pressures of the last few months.

And if that is not enough, HSR UK Chair Kieran Walshe is going to do a turn as master of ceremonies at the end-of-conference ‘HSR UK Quiz of the Year’. Although I am not privy to the questions (no ‘fast lane’ here), expect a typically acerbic take on a year of mayhem in health and social care, that video, ultrarunning and Wales. Our requests for Zoom to add a ‘heckle’ button for that authentic pub quiz vibe sadly remain unanswered.

So look out for your HSR UK 2021 conference email, dive into all that high quality content over the next few days, and we will see you for some fascinating discussions next week.


Professor Peter Bower is a health services researcher at the University of Manchester and National Speciality Lead for health services research with the NIHR Clinical Research Network, and he sits on the HSR UK 21 Conference Committee