Introducing Natasha Hardicre, Embedded Researcher
29 September 2021
Introducing Natasha Hardicre, Embedded Researcher
Dr Natasha Hardicre
Natasha joined Leeds Academic Health Partnership this summer bringing a completely new role to the team and to our partners: that of embedded researcher. Embedded research is increasingly seen as a powerful way to link research and researchers with practice and practitioners.
Leeds Academic Health Partnership already brings disparate disciplines together to solve hard health challenges. But understanding the ‘real world’ issues surrounding those challenges and how best to solve them needs grass roots evidence.
As an experienced researcher, Natasha is already digging deep into citywide projects to mine that evidence and help ensure those projects are as effective as possible for improving health and care. Natasha explains more.
Q1. : Please tell us a bit about your experience in this field.
I have spent the last few years working in research within the health and care sector. My roles have involved working with individual people and their families, health and care staff, charities, third sector organisations, and universities.
The thread that runs through all those projects is improving health and wellbeing for people – those using services and those providing them.
My first involvement in healthcare improvement work was as a service user and then as a service user representative. So, I’ve seen things from various perspectives.
Q2. : It’s an exciting time to join the team and help drive forward this work. What does your new role entail?
There is so much work going on across the city at the moment – there’s a real appetite to make Leeds the best city for health and wellbeing. I have started working with Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds City Council,
and Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust on a number of projects focused on developing sustainable services which meet the needs of the population. For example, exploring perspectives on remote consultations and care.
My role is really varied. Sometimes I’m engaging with staff and service users to gather experiences and perspectives, and at other times I’m helping people to develop and evaluate planned programmes of work.
I’m also helping health and care practitioners turn ideas into research projects and I’m feeding research evidence I’ve gathered previously into service redesign to make it as friendly for people as possible.
Q3. : What would you say are the main challenges and opportunities for embedded research and its impact on health and care services?
Embedded research can be (a good kind of) challenge. You’re part of so many teams that you’re an insider and an outsider at the same time. That can be hard as a researcher and for the people you’re working with because you can’t contribute to all the activities a team does, especially as a non-healthcare professional working in medical teams. I am part of the wider team, but my role can be very different to everybody else’s.
But this also presents amazing opportunities – you can see connections you might not otherwise see. For example, I’ve worked with multiple wards within a specialty, and they all thought they were doing things in the same way. I was able to highlight differences between wards and the impacts these differences were having.
It also offers you the potential to contribute to things across teams and systems. One example is giving feedback to hospital staff about patient experiences of being in hospital, discharged, and then being at home. Most hospital staff don’t normally get the opportunity to find out about patient experiences once they’ve left the hospital.
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions brings a new kind of challenge right now. It’s hard to be embedded in teams when you’re working at home all the time! Luckily, technology enables me to be connected to lots of people – at the moment I feel more like I’m virtually embedded!
Q4. : How do you see your role might ultimately help residents?
This role will enable me to help ensure health and care systems are fair and accessible for everybody – both from a service provision and a research perspective. I am about to start working with partners to improve peoples’ access to outpatient care within Leeds’ hospitals. We will be exploring why some people don’t attend appointments, for example. By identifying barriers, we can improve systems to maximise the likelihood that people can attend their appointments and receive the care they need.
It’s really important that all people have the opportunity to participate in research so that we have good quality evidence that represents the diversity of our population.
One of the projects I’m working on at the moment is exploring how we make sure that a large, longitudinal research study within maternity services is as inclusive as possible. The project itself aims to get new insights into health and care during pregnancy and the early years of life by analysing routinely collected data so that the health of present and future generations is improved.
We want to make sure that all pregnant people in Leeds have the same opportunity to participate in the study, so we are working with them to understand what they need to feel comfortable sharing their data with us.
Q5. : What does a typical working day look like for you?
Part of my role is connecting with people from lots of different organisations, so I have plenty of online meetings. I also review project documents for people, especially if I’m helping them to clarify programme aims or consult on evaluation planning. I have run theory of change workshops and really enjoy that aspect of my work.
Alongside doing work that partners ask me to do, I am keen to develop and lead research projects which will benefit all our partner organisations. . This involves scoping work, especially reading existing research evidence. A topic I’ve been exploring recently is the impact of loneliness on young people’s health and wellbeing.
One thing I’m excited to do more of is qualitative research with health and care staff and service users; I love working with people, finding out their stories, and working out how I can use my research to improve things.
As I am employed by Leeds Beckett University, I also meet with colleagues from my school (School of Health) regularly and I’m contributing to teaching the sociology of health this semester, which I’m really looking forward to.
Q6: Why is this work important to you personally?
I got into applied health research after some negative experiences when having my children. Initially, I’d just wanted to share my personal experience and give feedback in the hope that it could contribute to service improvements.
However, I also found that many other people wanted to share their experiences and perspectives but didn’t always feel able to. My training and experience as a sociologist and a researcher meant that I was able to gather those peoples’ stories, engage with services to provide feedback on their behalf to bring about positive changes. Since then, I’ve been passionate about using research to contribute to improvements in services. I want to make our health and care systems the best they can be, for everyone – the people that manage them, provide them, and use them.
I’m also incredibly interested in understanding the world and exploring how things work – I love investigating why and how people do, think, and feel things. I also love helping people to understand familiar things in new ways. So, it’s the perfect job for me. I get to collect and tell stories and use these to make the world a bit better than it was before. That’s the hope, anyway!
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