Our Story

The Academy of Research & Improvement was officially launched on Tuesday 10th July 2018. In this article, I look back at how this has evolved, and how we hope it will continue to grow and flourish. 

This was almost 8 years to the day from the beginning of the research and improvement journey at Solent, and took place at our annual conference. Nearly 200 people attended, with a wide selection of the research and improvement projects presented from across the organisation.  To launch the Academy among colleagues and our patient partners felt special, not just because of what we can offer in terms of support, or the incredible scope of work, but mostly because of the reflection of the type of organisation we are, of the people we have within in, and the enthusiasm and passion for doing the best thing for those we look after.

I can still vividly remember the beginning of this journey, taking the first ‘Research Manager’ post in the newly formed Solent NHS Trust. I was  enthusiastic about research in an organisation that delivered care in the community, out of hospital. I had a background of public health research in lower income countries and there research and service delivery went hand in hand, they informed each other, it was a joyful way to work. I thought that was what I was coming to in the UK. Nope… other than a teeny minority, research was not something that was done in the community, and worse, it wasn’t something anyone seemed to want to do – and I couldn’t blame them. It was surrounded by wall after wall of process and governance, complex metrics and if honest, a bit of a culture of bullying. It was toxic – even the CEO during my induction chat, said I was there to make sure we didn’t get into any trouble, but to remember that research was not core business of a community organisation. It was baffling.

Fortunately, the people within Solent are brilliant and I was very confident that we needed to change from an organisation that just sent patients off to a hospital if they wanted to do research, to an organisation that went after its own research: where we could build an evidence base around care out of hospitals, and where we could help our patients and service users, and the people that work with us, get involved. We got a small budget from our research network, and it started to grow, and take on more of a life of its own

Then in 2012, our Medical Director decided that he'd get us to take on clinical audit. That was a challenge, and in most organisations these are separate functions. It was the right move, however, and signaled the birth of integrated working. It moved us in the direction of supporting systematic improvement, with a bucket of tools to offer, rather than activities in silo. Over the years, we have incorporated our QI training programme, innovation via Dragon’s Den and clinical and patient reported outcomes. This Academy now offers an integrated approach to training and support for improvement, which is unusual, but which works extremely well. We have called it an Academy quite deliberately – not because we wanted to sound grand, not because we wanted to get to the top of the list of drop down services on our intranet and shared drives (though that is a massive bonus), but because it is about a place of study and training, and of celebration and learning. This is reflected in the four pillars of our Strategy.

There are some core principles and values in this Academy – firstly, we are here to facilitate and support, rather than do – all of these activities and projects need to be part of the fabric of this organisation and embedded out in services. If we can support the demonstration of on-going improvement, of opportunity and of ownership, Solent will continue to be a great place to work and deliver great care.

Secondly, we are proud of the services and the ethos of this organisation, and fully believe that hospital stays should be absolutely the last resort. People need to be at home or as close as they can, and it is our job to help people to demonstrate, through evidence, why that is better and how best to do it.

And thirdly, but most importantly, we do this together with those that use our services and our communities. We have a strong ethos of working side by side with our patients, service users, family members, care partners. If we could do one thing better going forward, we will revolutionise the way we work with patients and communities in partnership. We need to really up our game in respect of people partnership – it is a land of crazy where we develop services, make changes, without doing that alongside the very people that service is for. Not only that, but actually being involved in the development of NHS services is a constitutional right of our patients and service users and there is a lot of evidence that it improves outcomes and well being.

We are in a great place with this Academy: we are currently at the top of national league tables for research activity in Care Trusts, we have a thriving clinical effectiveness and improvement programme, and have strong partnerships with communities and patients. Next Spring we will even be moving into a dedicated building (watch this space). There is loads more that we can do, and we are extremely excited about taking this forward for the Solent and our surrounding community.