NIHR Blog

Katie Belfield, research assistant at the Biomaterials Related Infection Group, School of Medicine, University of Nottingham

Patient and Public Involvement - enhancing research excellence through partnership

Author:

Katie Belfield, research assistant, Biomaterials Related Infection Group, University of Nottingham

Date: 11 August 2017

As a newcomer to Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) three years ago, I was unsure of how to organise it and more than anything what to expect. After seeking organisational advice from some fantastic people however, we had a research management committee up and running and we haven’t slowed since. 

We are a partnership of academics, clinicians, and members of the public who are experts in their own health, and enthusiastic about research. This is what I hoped would be a key benefit of integrating PPI into the research. As we developed as a group it became immediately clear that the lay members not only had the patient experience expertise, but also expertise outside of healthcare acquired through their working life from which we could benefit.
This seems obvious in retrospect. Of course people have lives outside of research, but as researchers we sometimes forget this.

The unexpected economy of PPI

From personal experience, our lay members have provided skills and knowledge beyond that of other members of our research management committee. For example, Ossie, one lay member with business and entrepreneurial experience helped us to create a business plan for a medical device we are developing with funding from an NIHR Invention for Innovation Award (i4i). This plan has been discussed with licensing executives from our institution and it has brought clear added value to our project as we start the commercialisation process; we now have an understanding of the potential value of our technology.

Rupert has a PhD in biochemistry, industrial experience and is a trustee of a charity that represents many people who may be beneficiaries of the technology we are developing, including himself. At our research management committee meetings he contributes scientific analysis in addition to practical suggestions as a representative of his charity. Outside of meetings Rupert will send the team relevant papers, publications, and presentations. His critical scientific analysis has directly impacted on the quality and variety of laboratory experiments.

Maureen used her confidence in presenting from her previous work in adult learning to attend the Research Ethics Committee decision meeting regarding a clinical trial of the aforementioned medical device. She established an effective dialogue with the lay members of the committee, acting as our champion for the project. Her input was reflected and commended in the letter of favourable opinion from the committee.

The intricate workings of the NHS in the primary care setting have been revealed to us through Sylvia who is retired from GP management. She has a keen understanding of the interface between patients and the NHS from the perspective as a patient and as an administrator. This is an important distinction as she emphasises to us the need for training and engagement as we move forward with integrating our technology into patients seen by the community teams.

Partnership: Katie (second right) and Maureen (second left) at the NIHR CRN East Midlands Research Awards 2017

Patient and public partnership

The role of PPI in this project exceeded my expectations. The volunteers come to the role with enthusiasm, life expertise, and also specific expertise from their own working life that we couldn’t have predicted or recruited for - an unexpected reward of our PPI experience.

As clinicians and researchers we should remember that lay members are not a health condition nor a diagnosis, but also have many additional skills on offer. And as one lay member has pointed out, when a research management committee functions as an equal group, it becomes less of patient and public ‘involvement’ and more of patient and public ‘partnership’, suggesting that ‘PPP’ may be more appropriate term. 

Good PPI deserves recognition

The work of the group was recently highlighted by the award for Patient/Carer/Member of the Public Nominated Researcher at the NIHR Clinical Research Network East Midlands Research Awards 2017. Ossie has also received an award of Special Recognition at the East Midlands Excellence in Education Awards 2017. 

*Katie Belfield is a research assistant at the Biomaterials-Related Infection Group, School of MedicineUniversity of Nottingham

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health.
  • Summary:
    In our latest blog Katie Belfield explains how patients and the public can use their own expertise and enthusiasm to help shape research.
  • Year:
    2017
  • Author:

    Katie Belfield, research assistant, Biomaterials Related Infection Group, University of Nottingham