From staff wellbeing to children’s physio – new projects to help patients in Torbay

Two health professionals from Torbay have been named the first recipients of a new grant supporting clinicians in Torbay and South Devon to make a difference to patient care through research.

Kathryn Bamforth, Physiotherapist and Clinical Research Team Leader at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, and Harriet Hughes, Children’s Physiotherapist, also at the Trust, will be investigating staff wellbeing, and support for children with cerebral palsy respectively thanks to the funding given by Torbay Medical Research Fund.

The Fund awarded £250,000 to the University of Plymouth South West Clinical School at the Trust earlier this year. The money was given to support doctoral fellows at the organisation, who will undertake a PhD while continuing in their clinical role, and pre-doctoral fellows, who will spend the equivalent of one day a week over one year preparing for a PhD.

Kathryn is the first doctoral fellow under the new scheme, and will start a PhD this month looking at how healthcare staff perceive their wellbeing impacts on patient care, and how their wellbeing can be supported by healthcare organisations.

She hopes the work will lead to co-designed wellbeing interventions which are relevant and applicable to staff.

Kathryn said:

“There is increasing evidence that staff experience impacts on patient experience and is positively associated with good health outcomes, yet our understanding of staff experience is limited.

“We also know that many healthcare professionals do not recognise the importance of their own wellbeing or its impact on providing person-centred care. Nationally, workforce wellbeing is a growing priority as staff come under pressure to provide care to a growing population which is living longer and with more complex health needs in the face of reducing budgets – so this work is really important.

“This fellowship is a fantastic way of ensuring that my academic knowledge and experience-based co-design expertise remains within the organisation and can then be used as for service transformation across other services and departments.”

Harriet has secured the first pre-doctoral fellowship under the new scheme, and will be developing a PhD proposal on the use of Functional Electrical Stimulation – a pocket-sized device that generates low energy electrical impulses – to aid walking in children with cerebral palsy.

She hopes her research will benefit ambulant children with cerebral palsy, and will give them additional opportunity to practise their walking skills and develop their lower limb strength. Her work will be supported by supported by Rachel Rapson, National Institute for Health Research Doctoral Fellow and Physiotherapist at the Trust.

Harriet said:

“The fellowship will provide me with the skills and time to carry out a literature review – that is, seeing what evidence already exists – and put forward a PhD proposal to an appropriate grant funder. My future PhD project may involve some basic research into motor control skills during walking. It will also look at the feasibility of trialling Functional Electrical Stimulation in ambulant children with CP, with the aim of improving walking patterns, functional ability and community participation.

“By the end of my fellowship I hope to be able to set up a Functional Electrical Stimulation clinic for children in Torbay specifically targeting ankle dorsiflexors (the muscles that raise the foot upwards towards the shin during walking). I’m so pleased to have received this funding and hope it’s the start of a great project making a real difference to patient care.”

Dr Susie Pearce, Associate Professor at the University of Plymouth who will be supporting Kathryn with her PhD, said:

“This is a really exciting time for the Clinical School here at Torbay and we are looking forward to working with Kathryn and Harriet to take their projects to fruition.”

Professor Mary Hickson, Co-Director of the University of Plymouth Torbay and South Devon Clinical School, said:

“This scheme has encouraged other people to think about pre-doctoral and doctoral pathways and we are really keen to support them. If there is anyone who is considering this please get in touch and we can help and advise you.”

Dr Jon Goldman, Trustee of Torbay Medical Research Fund, said:

“Torbay Medical Research Fund is delighted to support these research fellowships and is pleased to support the two candidates that have been appointed.”

South West Clinical Schools is a collaboration between the University of Plymouth and the NHS to encourage nurses, midwives and other allied health professionals to look at their practice, challenge current thinking, try out new ideas and work out ways to measure what they're doing. Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust is one of five Trusts that hosts the initiative.

The ultimate aim of the funding is to develop a critical mass of staff who can embed evidence-based change to enhance services; improving cost effectiveness and quality, while recruiting, retaining and developing the best staff in health and care. 

The Clinical School at Torbay and South Devon NHS Trust exists to promote evidence-based practice and clinically-focused non-medical research that enhances patient care.

A partnership between the Trust and the University of Plymouth, the Clinical School encourages and supports nurses, midwives and other allied health professionals to look at their practice, challenge current thinking, try out new ideas and work out ways to measure what they're doing.

We are working at two levels; one to change the ethos, strategy, culture and infrastructure to help support research activity and also with individual staff to support them to increase their research skills and knowledge.

Together with the support of the trust and individual staff, we aim to:

  • increase research activity and enhance research opportunities to improve service delivery and patient outcomes
  • increase the capability for nurses, midwives, and allied health professionals to develop practice-based research
  • assist the transition of registered healthcare professionals to research leadership roles located within clinical settings
  • support the production of innovative ideas to enhance clinical practices within healthcare.

South West Clinical Schools

The Clinical Schools are a collaboration between the University of Plymouth and NHS Trusts working with nurses, midwives, and allied health professionals at all stages of their clinical and academic development.

Our work with local health services has identified the urgent need to capture improvements in patient and family outcomes, as well as ensure that existing evidence is used to best effect and increase the amount of research led by non-medical health professionals.

To meet these needs, we have invested in Clinical Schools, which are professorial-led centres, in five of our local NHS Trusts.

Find out more about the South West Clinical Schools project