This is my first blog having only recently taken on the Interim Director of the Wessex Institute role following the departure of Matt Westmore.

This is part time in additional to my role as Chief Executive Officer of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Evaluation Trials and Stud ies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC) responsible for identifying, prioritising, funding, delivery, publication and dissemination of high quality research for six NIHR research programmes, and for leading a number of other NIHR initiatives to meet the needs of the public, patients, the NHS and wider care system.

The pandemic has shone a light on many aspects of our work and home lives, an area that has been reinforced for me is the importance of working in partnership.  My Centre leads on the James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnerships. Established in 2004, the James Lind Alliance (JLA) brings patients, carers and clinicians together in Priority Setting Partnerships to identify and prioritise the Top 10 unanswered questions evidence uncertainties that they agree are the most important. The aim of this is to make sure that health research funders are aware of the issues that matter most to the people who need to use the research in their everyday lives. The JLA has gone from strength to strength, growing into a truly collaborative and global initiative, achieving a 100 Priority Setting Partnerships last year. A fantastic example of what can be achieved through this style of working.

Why does this matter? Historically research on the effects of treatments has overlooked the shared priorities of patients, carers and clinicians.  Many areas of potentially important research are therefore neglected, and there can be a mismatch between the research being carried out and the research evidence needed by patients and clinicians every day.  The JLA involves both patients and clinicians equally in setting priorities for research. 

Like so many aspects of our lives the pandemic has meant that the Priority Setting Partnerships have had to adapt, including needing to work virtually.  Maintaining the JLA principles through encouraging open dialogue, participation, trust, fairness, exchange of views, teamwork, and neutral facilitation have helped make the virtual model successful; some important principles as we look forward to future ways of working which will include increased virtual working.

The pandemic has also reinforced the importance of people coming together as colleagues to support each other in extraordinary and uncertain times. In March, we invited everyone in the Wessex Institute to join an informal session to mark ‘One Year On’. The session was an opportunity to share the experience of making working from home, work whilst maintaining wellbeing. I wanted to share a couple of these – keeping connected, speaking to at least one person everyday as well as making time each week to catch up with colleagues – through regular informal meetings a couple of times a week. The importance of flexibility, for yourself and others and variety, mixing up the day – such as having an earlier lunch, or going for a walk in the afternoon and working later in the day. It was a truly inspirational and uplifting event and a sense of community and people coming together to support each other to achieve extraordinary things at a time of national and international need for evidence and research. I know there are many examples from across the Faculty.

There is optimism in the air as we start to look forward and prepare for future ways of working, what won’t change is the importance of being kind to each other, working together and in partnership. I am feeling very encouraged and optimistic that we can maintain and build on some of the good things that have happened over the last year.

Finally, a big ‘thank you’ to everyone for the warm welcome and support I have received coming into this interim role. I am looking forward to being more involved with the Faculty over the coming months.

Working in partnership by Lynn Kerridge, Interim Director Wessex Institute

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