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Public Health Agency Welcomes University of Ulster Research Study

31 January 2012

A survey conducted by the University of Ulster has listed research needs that would enable Allied Health Professionals (AHP) such as physiotherapists, occupational and speech and language therapists to improve the experience of people they care for.

The results were unveiled at a joint Public Health Agency (PHA) and University of Ulster workshop entitled “Shaping the Future” which highlighted the essential role of evidence-based research in effective health and social care practice.

The survey, in which Ulster researchers worked closely with leading AHPs, key stakeholders and service users throughout Northern Ireland, was funded by the Health and Social Care Research and Development Division of the Public Health Agency.

Presenting the survey, Professor Suzanne McDonough of the Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Research Centre at the University’s School of Health Sciences described it as an important road map for AHP research priorities.

She said: “It is the first step in the process of identifying what research still needs to be undertaken, what research already exists but needs to be translated, and some of the processes that need to be in place to ensure that research is an integral part of the day-to-day practice of AHPs and of service delivery.”
Specifically, the workshop, held at the Jordanstown campus, examined priorities for new AHP research and how existing research could be more effectively shared and used in health and social care development. 

The workshop heard that the nature of AHP work, which also covers, for example, nutrition and dietetics, podiatry and orthoptics, enables AHPs to carry out research that could rapidly benefit patient care and experience. 

Professor McDonough, who is Professor of Health and Rehabilitation, said: “In our study we used the Delphi technique, which is a structured process using a series of questionnaires, to gather information and gain consensus from AHP groups, stakeholders and service users.

"The results identified seven major priority areas for research. These ranged from: the need for more practice evaluation particularly in the areas of mental health, cancer, obesity; diabetes; chronic disease management (especially stroke and brain injury); the role of AHPs in health promotion; service delivery issues such as access to services and waiting times. This study provides an important road map for AHP research priorities.” 

Professor Bernie Hannigan, Director of Health and Social Care Research and Development (HSC R&D) Division of the PHA, said: “A sound base of evidence from research is vital for effective health and social care practice. I welcome this study as an important resource that will help generate new evidence and highlight the potential for existing evidence to be applied in practice.

“The evidence base points to beneficial innovations that use the most up-to-date knowledge and keep the service user at the centre of care practices. At this event, health and social care policy makers, commissioners, academics and researchers have been able to consider how they can do and use research to ensure our AHP services deliver the best outcomes for patients and are sufficiently cost-effective to be sustained.” 

Notes to Editor

The study was based on the Delphi technique that gathers respondents’ views and seeks consensus among the responses. This is contained in the report, available at:   
The HSC R&D Division of the PHA promotes and
facilitates research carried out in the HSC, universities and the voluntary sector to deliver benefits for patients, clients, professionals and the general population of Northern Ireland.

The HSC R&D Division provides direct funding for research and research infrastructure, helping to create opportunities for Northern Ireland-based researchers to compete for funding on a national and international basis. Often these initiatives are funded in partnership with other stakeholders, e.g. research councils, charities, other public sector bodies or commercial organisations.

The Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Research Centre, affiliated to one
of five Research Institutes within the Faculty of Life and Health Sciences at the University of Ulster, is primarily concerned with critical evaluation and implementation of interventions to improve the wellbeing of chronically ill individuals.

This group currently represents one of the largest Allied Health Professions research teams within the UK and Ireland. The research team is multidisciplinary in composition with staff from a range of Allied Health Professions and Nursing.

The Allied Health Professions (AHPs) involved in this study were: physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, podiatrists, nutrition and dietetics and orthoptics, along with senior health professionals and people who use AHP services.