New Programme – Reducing harm and promoting wellbeing amongst people who have housing, health and substance use challenges

In the fourth of our introductions to the new programmes, Dr Tessa Parkes, Dr Hannah Carver, and Dr Fiona Cuthill provide a bit more detail on their new programme.

Dr Tessa Parkes is Research Director of the Salvation Army Centre for Addiction Services and Research (SACASR) and institutional Dean for Equality and Diversity at University of Stirling. Her research and knowledge exchange activities focus on substance use and connections to broader health and social inequalities; the role of policy in mobilising effective responses to health and social problems; the relevance of advocacy, activism and social movements in creating change within health and social care; and user/survivor/peer leadership.

Dr Hannah Carver is a Knowledge Exchange Fellow in the SACASR, University of Stirling. Her work involves research and knowledge exchange activities in drug and alcohol use, homelessness, mental health, children and families. She is currently working on a qualitative review of effective substance use treatment for people who are homeless.

Dr Fiona Cuthill is a Lecturer in Nursing Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She has a particular interest in health inequalities, gender based violence, homelessness and refugee health. She is currently working on a qualitative research project to explore homeless patients’ experience of General Practice care in an outreach setting.


What made you interested in the subject of this project?

As a team, we are all involved in this area in some form, as researchers or practitioners, but in our experience the issues of homelessness and substance use can be treated separately rather than interwoven. Several of our team had been working on a related research grant and felt that more could be done to bring people from different sectors together to discuss the opportunities and challenges of working in these areas and ways to work together across the sector more seamlessly. We were put in contact with other members of the team, shared our ideas over a few meetings and conference calls and the idea for our seminar series was born.


Why do you think this is an important issue to interrogate?

Homelessness is a critical issue in Scotland, with more than 34,000 people in Scotland being assessed as homeless or at risk of homeless. Many people who are homeless also have poor mental and physical health and significant numbers use drugs and alcohol. These issues can further complicate people’s experiences of homelessness, negatively affecting their access to housing and other services and putting them at increased risk of harm. A recent study showed that people who are homeless have ill-health comparable to those more than double their age in the general population and they are four times more likely to die prematurely than the general population. Access to and engagement with health and treatment services can be particularly problematic and people often do not get the help they require when they need it most. When people who experience homelessness do access mainstream healthcare or substance use services, their needs are not well met: they can experience stigma and negative attitudes from staff, be viewed as second class citizens, and encounter inflexible services. There is very limited evidence regarding the most effective treatments for problem drug and alcohol use for people who are homeless. There are national and international models of care but their relevance to Scotland has not been explored. By hosting these events, we can learn more about and share stories of innovative models of practice that are often under the radar, in Scotland, the UK and across the world. By learning about what works in different areas can provide further options for working with people who are homeless.


What made you decide to submit a proposal to the Scottish Universities Insight Institute? OR How did you hear about the Scottish Universities Insight Institute?

We heard about Scottish Universities Insight Institute at one of their roadshows at University of Stirling in early 2017. As researchers, we tend to focus on gaining funding to conduct research, so learning about the SUII funding options provided us with an opportunity to develop something a bit different. In their work in the new Salvation Army Centre for Addiction Services and Research, Tessa and Hannah’s work involves both knowledge exchange and primary research, so the SUII funding fitted perfectly.


Who else is working with you on this, and how did the programme team come together?

We’re a relatively large, multi-disciplinary team, led by Dr Tessa Parkes (University of Stirling) and Dr Fiona Cuthill (University of Edinburgh), which includes Dr Hannah Carver, Dr Maria Fotopoulou and Professor Isobel Anderson (University of Stirling); Dave Liddell and Jason Wallace (Scottish Drugs Forum); Dr John Budd and Dr Adam Burley (NHS Lothian); Professor Sarah Johnsen (Heriot Watt University); and Dr Emma Doyle (NHS Health Scotland). Our team bring a diverse range of experiences, perspectives and expertise. We got together in a rather iterative way, stemming from conversations about different research projects and contacts.


How have you structured the programme?

We will be hosting three inter-connected events, in November 2017, March 2018 and May 2018. Each event will follow a general structure, with short presentations from local, national and international speakers and group discussions. One of our key outputs from the series of events will be the development of a short film, consisting of short snapshots from each event as well as participant created clips. We will be inviting every participant to create several short films which summarise their experiences of attending the events as well as their work more generally. We hope to use the final film as a way of highlighting the key issues and challenges in the field, sharing it with other academics, practitioners and policy makers. At each event we will also have involvement from three creative arts groups who are connected to the field: a drama performance, a choir and a photographic exhibition. We hope these performances will provide some entertainment as well as to facilitate different ways of thinking about the key issues.


What kind of participants are you hoping to involve?

We have made the decision to involve the same group of participants across the three events, with the aim of developing relationships and lasting partnerships. We have invited a number of academics, clinicians, policy makers and people who have lived experience of problem substance use and/or homelessness to attend.


Is there any element of this project that you wouldn’t have been possible otherwise?

SUII funding has allowed us to ‘think outside the box’ and do something a bit different to the usual academic conference or seminar. The funding has provided us with the opportunity to invite national and international experts to attend and for us to learn about different, innovative models of research and service delivery. The funding will also enable us to co-create a short film, involving our participants, that can be used as an impactful way of highlighting the key issues and gaps in this area. Finally, being part of SUII means we’ve been able to gather a large, multidisciplinary team and expand our networks, and will allow us and others to meet people we would not usually have the chance to meet and talk with.


What difference do you hope to make with this project?

We hope that by creating an opportunity for people to come together and meet people with similar experiences and interests, we can facilitate and strengthen professional networks and relationships and potential collaborations. Our intention is that our events will have an impact on both policy and practice, including through the development of new models of care that can improve the quality of life for this group of people. Not only will there be increased awareness of international models that could be translated into practice in Scotland but also a confidence in working together across the sector to put knowledge into action and take new steps to better address the needs of this group in Scotland. We aim to create a multi-sectoral community of practice that can develop proposals for funding for new research to be done that translates the learning from the programme into action. It is our hope that those organisations working with this group will be able to work more closely together because of key individuals within these organisations having better connections outside of their organisations, and a better understanding of new models of care that can transform people’s lives. We intend to create a framework for action/agenda for change from this programme of events which we can then use across the sector to try to gather further momentum and dialogue with a wider group of people and organisations.


You can find out more about the programme on the SUII website here.  


Author: scotinsight

The Scottish Universities Insight Institute supports programmes of knowledge exchange which address and provide insight on substantial issues that face Scotland and the wider world. Our programmes break down disciplinary and organisational barriers in bringing together academics from different backgrounds, policymakers and practitioners to mobilise existing knowledge in fresh ways through sustained and collaborative focus on a shared issue. Our member universities are: Aberdeen, Dundee, Heriot Watt, St Andrews, Strathclyde, and Glasgow School of Art.

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