16 October 2020

This is #ELFTResearch & Innovation Week, a time to celebrate and highlight the various aspects of research going on across the Trust,  with a view to inspire people to consider ways to get involved.

Lilu Wheeler is Project Manager for Allied Health Professionals and here she explains her role as a Public Contributor with The National Institute for Health Research. The NIHR is a government agency that funds research into health and care and is the largest national clinical research funder in Europe.

AHP Project Manager Lilu Wheeler, (back row, 4th from left) with NIHR colleagues.

Click here to find all the articles in the week-long series #ELFTReseach & Innovation Week

What is your role at the NIHR?

I used to be on the ‘Research for Patient Benefit’ panel where I had to ensure that research proposals were going to benefit the patient rather than be ‘nice to know’.

I have been one of two Public Contributors to the NIHR Emergency Response and Preparedness Call which looks at how we prepare for emergencies such as terrorist attacks or something like the Grenfell fire.

I was also on the 'College of Experts' for COVID-19 Research and one of two Public Reviewers for the COVID-19 BAME Research Call.

The urgency was such we literally had days in which to review several proposals.

I am also involved with the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion team.

I advise on issues such as increasing diversity within research.

I'm doing the Future Focused Leadership Programme with NIHR as my role has become more strategic.

You have helped to identify some groundbreaking work that has gone on to win funding that has really made an impact on peoples' lives. What were these?

I have approved research in areas of autism, suicide among doctors and one a few years back on parenting and ‘personality disorder’ using video feedback.

There were five proposals submitted for the COVID-19 BAME Research Call. (1)

All of the COVID-19 funded research projects are expected to give results within 12 months so we should hear back in summer next year at the latest.

Why is it crucial that the panel includes people with a range of diverse backgrounds, and not just clinicians or professionals from a narrow cohort?

 I'm honoured to sit with some very bright world, renowned researchers, clinicians and academics who are leaders in their field and really know their area.

Patient Contributors add the real-life practical side and patient concerns.

Whereas the panel will concern themselves with whether the statistical method is accurate, I'll point out a parent won't want to pick their kids out of school to carry out this research twice a week for 3 months!

That's not to say that we don't cross over.

The panel got used to me commenting on qualitative interviewing whilst panel members are also parents, carers and patients themselves.

You really get an opportunity have a say and it's empowering when you have a room full of professors about to vote against a proposal and you alone change their mind.

A couple of examples include one where the reviewers and panel didn't see the value in diagnosing adults with autism.

I went against consensus, put my foot down and explained why I felt it is important - particularly for women who might be misdiagnosed.

Another time, I saw a proposal that made a bald and inaccurate statement about Urdu speakers, something that might have been missed otherwise.

How has the experience of working in this way strengthened your role in the main job you do for the Trust, if you feel it has?

I've worked with NIHR a lot longer than I have for the NHS.

It's an environment that encourages people to speak up.

They really value patient public involvement and I'm quite different to many clinicians and academics there but we really compliment each other.

Having gone from worrying about what I might say in a room to challenging and persuading a room of 20 professors to your way of thinking has enabled me to challenge anyone whoever they are.

I'm used to challenges and debate and I try to get others to do that too and consider other perspectives.

It's also helped in my bid writing as I get to see proposals on the other side.

I see a lot of different proposals across social, physical and mental health care and I'm one of the first to hear about new research areas - it helps my learning across wider area than NEL be able to suggest networking opportunities.

Recently I've used my knowledge of the future direction of research to advise R&I at the Trust.

My proposal to the Executive Board to improve diversity in Research at ELFT has been supported at the early stage and this aligns with what  R&I have been looking at too so it's really exciting to see how this might shape in the future.

They're all scientists and I get research so we come to a similar understanding of the need for solutions and interventions.

I saw some great work and people giving their time for free, offering mentoring to early researchers and people dedicated to finding a cure.

Obviously, Chris Whitty will be the best known of NIHR staff but they're all very similar in that they are dedicated and provide reassurance.

Patients and public are just as much, if not more vital to include in research.


(1) Multimillion investment in six new research projects to investigate COVID-19 and ethnicity>>

To find out more about how to get involved in research at ELFT visit the webpage Getting Involved in Research.

You can contact ELFT’s R&I team for more informationelft.researchoffice@nhs.net