Student Blog: The importance of incorporating public and patient involvement in my MSc Research

One of our current MSc by Applied Research students, Sophia, blogs about her MSc dissertation project which is incoporating public and patient involvement into a study of experiences of local mental health services:

My current research project has been developed by myself and a team of lived experience advisors as part of a public and patient involvement (PPI) strategy. Our aims are primarily to explore the experiences of mental health service users in Stoke-on-Trent and provide a service-user perspective of these services at a local level. Secondly, we aim to add to the literature surrounding the implementation of PPI strategies and co-production in mental health research.

A PPI strategy is a plan to engage with the public and /or patient groups, depending on your research question, with a view to enhance the quality of the research. PPI teams generally offer their experience, perspective and advice through roles such as ‘advisory’ or ‘steering’ groups. But consider this. If I told you that someone I have regular contact with has helped me to develop the proposal, ethics, interview questions, participant information, analysis, dissemination plans, plain language summary, presentation, and once even provided tech support, would you describe that as an advisory role? Perhaps a co-producer is more accurate.

My area of interest is mental health; historically outcomes of importance in this area have been identified by clinicians and researchers. This has led to much research focusing on eliminating symptoms and assessing the effectiveness of psychopharmacology; and although these areas are important, outcomes such as improved quality of life are neglected and clinical trials concerning talking therapies are kin to unicorn sightings. Consequently, strategies such as that adopted by the National Institute of Health Research asking researchers to provide a plan for PPI work alongside applications for funding have become more common. However, PPI work isn’t just the concern of the NIHR. Involving the public and patient populations in your research no matter what level you are at, undergrad, MSc, PhD, or full-blown professorship with bells on, helps you to keep your research focused on population relevant questions and outcomes. That is, it allows you to investigate the things that are important to the people you are trying to help. Further to this, it provides dialogue between patient populations and researchers, allows for the exchange of knowledge and experience and develops trust in the community. It demonstrates that the research is being done, that we do care what you think about what you have been through and together we can make things better.

As students, we can contribute to a better way of conducting research and set precedents. Eliminating tokenistic steering groups and sitting down with our gran/neighbour/kids/patient/pilot participant, asking them how something was for them, really listening and making co-production the norm. I know that’s what the public and patient group I’m working with want, because I asked them.

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

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