Published: 27 July 2018

Stronger together for health systems research

Dr Éidín Ní Shé is encouraging patients, the public, healthcare professionals and researchers to work together to improve health systems. She shares her experience with Dr Claire O Connell...

Ní neart go cur le chéile – there is no strength without unity, and we are stronger together. That’s why Dr Éidín Ní Shé is working on a range of HRB-funded projects to encourage patients, researchers, medical staff and members of the public to engage with research and improve outcomes, whether it’s more accessible and safer healthcare or more user-friendly ways of addressing diabetes and dementia. 
 
Éidín is a Research Fellow with the Health Systems Research group in school of Nursing, Midwifery & Health Systems UCD, which looks at how to develop new healthcare approaches that engage the people involved.
 
“We work with people in the health system and policy makers and we co-design innovations to improve the health system,” she explains. “It’s about consulting the people and populations who are affected by the research or ‘nothing about us without us’. 
 
Better thinking in hospitals
 
Éidín and her colleagues are building these collaborations in many different areas, including looking at better ways to support older, frail patients who come into hospital through the Emergency Department.
 
The SAFE (Systematic Approach to improving care for Frail older Patients) study, takes a Public Patient Involvement (PPI) approach, explains Éidín. “We are working at St Vincent’s University Hospital to co-design frailty pathways. That involves simple but important aspects like ensuring access to water, having risk plans in place and not having the trolley as a default in the Emergency Department.”
 
In another project led by Professor Eilish McAuliffe, Éidín has helped to develop a board game that encourages junior doctors to report potential safety issues. “It is a game that we co-designed with them, patients and those working within the system,” says Éidín. “They are reluctant to report safety issues due to the potential impact on their career, and that culture is there the moment they walk in the door, so it is hard for them to know what to do. When they play this board game, it raises awareness and gets them to think about their role in the safety culture.”
 
Co-design and community capacity building
 
Éidín’s interest in the area of co-design and public engagement grew from her PhD work at the University of Limerick. “I looked at the lived experience of those in the asylum process and Traveller community in County Clare in accessing public services,” she says. “It involved training community researchers and feeding back into service providers, and it led to the first integration strategy in the county.”
 
Éidín went to Australia and worked in community capacity building, such as supporting social enterprise employment for people transitioning from mental health treatment, and she returned to UCD where she is actively working to increase Public-Patient Involvement in research. She recently spoke at a Patient Voice in Diabetes event where researchers and people with diabetes met to talk about approaches in research, and she helped to run a recent ‘public engagement day’ at UCD that attracted around 350 researchers who want to build more patient and public involvement into their projects.  
 
Broadening impact
 
One of the biggest rewards for Éidín in her work is seeing the results happen. “I love working in that setting, being able to bring the evidence that we have to influence health systems and building long-term reciprocal partnerships,” she says.
 
Éidín is keen to spread the word about the research too, and as a fluent Irish speaker she does part of her outreach as Gaeilge. “I grew up speaking Irish – look at all the fadas in my name – and I didn’t write anything in English until I reached my undergrad,” she says. “So I do a lot of interviews with Raidió Na Gaeltachta, I think it important to output the research in as many ways as possible.”
 
And when she is taking a break from it all, Éidín loves to head back to her native West Kerry. “I get there as often as I can.”