The Cochrane UK and Ireland Symposium was held in Dublin on 23-24 April, with two days of workshops, masterclasses and plenary sessions. Helen Wakeford (Deputy Managing Editor), Anne Littlewood (Trials Search Co-ordinator) and Jo Weldon (Research Co-ordinator) were in attendance. The theme of the conference was Advocating for Evidence, and it was fully explored in four fascinating plenary sessions. The Symposium was organized by Cochrane UK, and hosted by Cochrane Ireland at the beautiful Dublin Convention Centre on the banks of the Liffey.
The introductory plenary concentrated on all things Irish, with the Symposium being launched by Martin Burton, head of Cochrane UK and Dónal O’Mathúna, convenor of Cochrane Ireland. Dr. O’Mathúna presented the work of Cochrane Ireland, stressing the need to look at what has already happened in systematic reviews and what can be built upon. He also pointed out that Cochrane already had a presence in Ireland even before the Centre was established, with over 700 authors in Archie having an Irish address. Cochrane Ireland is providing opportunities for training and development, follow them on Twitter (@CochraneIreland) for updates on their work. Kathleen Mac Lellan, the Director of Clinical Effectiveness from the Ireland Department of Health was next to take to the floor. She talked about the important work that is going into guidelines, making 20-30 guidelines available in priority areas, including maternal and emergency care. Roger O’Sullivan’s presentation was titled Building Your Convoy. As Director of the Centre for Aging Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI), he is in a good position to explore the differences in approach to evidence by researchers, practitioners and policy makers, and he began by outlining the many challenges to researchers including growing competition for funding, the pressure to publish, ethics and information overload. He made the important point that research is about influence, information should be shared in ways that build understanding, and that understanding your key stakeholders, networks and the flow of knowledge is crucial.
Day two of the Symposium was opened by Professor Athula Sumathipala, Professor of Psychiatry at Keele University. He looked at research impact in the developing world, specifically in Sri Lanka, where the Institute for Research and Development has been attempting to make inroads into the research imbalance between developed and developing countries. He presented some really interesting research on mental health issues after the South East Asian tsunami. His conclusion was that it is a crime to leave your research findings on a shelf gathering dust, get them out there! Marie Ennis O’Connor, Stanford Medicine X e-Patient Scholar and award winning blogger was next up. She attempted some live tweeting during her session, and promised to answer any questions we sent by tweet. She talked about the ePatient, patients empowered by the rise of technology who are connected with research and the medical profession. Accessible, trustworthy information and the encouragement to use it are key drivers of patient empowerment, and that is where Cochrane can make a contribution. Instead of more information, patients need more understandable and credible information. Her slides can be accessed here:
The third plenary kicked off with awardwinning writer and broadcaster Margaret McCartney, who combines these activities with her work as a Glasgow GP. She talked about the problems of getting research evidence into practice, and the need to reduce research waste. She pointed out that often research does not ask a useful question, it asks a question that has already been answered or has not been well designed. Evidence can be hammered in like a square peg into a round hole, ignoring individual patient needs. She gave several examples of patients presenting with conditions at her surgery, talking about the problems of how to assess, diagnose and treat a patient with complex needs in a ten minute appointment. She also discussed the link between health and social problems, as a GP she has weeks where she refers more people to food banks than acute care. Dr. Phil Hammond, former GP, writer, broadcaster and comedian followed with an entertaining and informative presentation. He started by getting us all to hug the person next to us, to share the love! A true Cochrane Love In… He has just published a book where he has collected stories from people about how NHS care could be better. They valued compassion most, but he found that the word “compassion” was sadly lacking in the Health and Social Care Bill (now Act). He provided some great examples of patients having the confidence to research and manage their own medical conditions, and how this can lead to a positive impact (HIV was one area where he felt this had happened). The challenge for Cochrane is to get the evidence out there, so it can be accessed and become part of the discussion.
The final plenary session was by the Migration Observatory’s Rob McNeil, introduced by Julie Wood, Cochrane’s Head of Media and Communications. He talked about how to get evidence to the press and gave us some good tips and lessons learned. The main message of his presentation was that truth needs to be put into context to convey its real meaning. Trust is key to this, and Cochrane has a role to play in public debate as an independent, global network. McNeil pointed out that the media needs expertise, and values Cochrane’s input but also that we need to think more about developing content that speaks to the audience.
The venue and date for the next Cochrane UK & Ireland Annual Symposium has yet to be announced, but visit the Cochrane UK website to keep informed.