Professor Eileen Kaner

Professor of Public Health & Primary Care Research, Newcastle University

Professor Eileen Kaner is Professor of Public Health and Primary Care Research at Newcastle University and Director of the National Institute for Health and Care Research Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) covering the North East and North Cumbria.

Tell us more about your various roles

I’m a Professor of Public Health and Primary Care Research at Newcastle University, and I’m also a behavioural scientist. I’m interested in what people do, and why they do what they do, and how we might change that for the better. For the last four years, I’ve been the Director of the Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North East and North Cumbria. The ARC is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and covers all six universities in the North East and North Cumbria and around 60 health and care organisations. What the ARC is trying to do is to generate evidence that is focused on the priorities of our health and care system in its widest sense. It includes the NHS and local authority-based public health and social care services, as well as the voluntary and community sector. Since we began in 2019, the ARC now employs over 51 fellows right across the region, who are working with partners in practice and members of the public. We’re trying to understand how to improve health and care experience, and the outcomes for people who need our health and care services in the region.

I’m also a Non-Executive Director in the Integrated Care Board (ICB) for the North East and Northumbria, where for the last 18 months, I’ve been chairing the Quality and Safety Committee and trying to understand our health and care system. Through that role – which supports my role in applied health and care research – I am working to understand the way our health and care services should be organised and the experience of people who need support for health conditions.

What do you enjoy most about working in your sector?

I enjoy the variety. Having lots of different roles means that I’m rarely bored and I get to engage with people from different sectors – I think that’s quite important. When people work in any one sector, I think they can get a little bit hidebound. People can get overly focused on that sector, when really we need all the organisations to contribute to health and well-being in the wider sense. I think it is important to understand those people who are involved in organising and delivering prevention, treatment and care. Part of my role is to try to understand the evidence needs, so we can base care delivery on the best evidence we have.

My role is involved in trying to help people evaluate the impact of what they’re doing. It’s really important to work with people who are closely involved in care delivery as well as members of the public using our health and care services. This is so that we can understand the experience of needing health and care services and what it’s like to be a patient and feel vulnerable in that system. This way, we can try and improve health and care for everyone.

How important is innovation within your sector?

Really important. The NHS and the wider health and care services cannot stand still. Circumstances are changing all the time, and we are constrained in terms of finances. Demand on health and care services has increased, certainly through the pandemic, but also beyond that. People want to stay well and they want to understand how best they can do that. As part of innovation, we’re interested in models of care, and how people from different health and care services can work together to better to support patients. I think the NHS in its old form was very much developed around single disease issues and it really waited until people were already ill, in order to respond. Now, we’re trying to help people think about prevention to stay as well as they can as long as possible, and we need to innovate in order to know how to best support prevention.

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

Securing an NIHR-funded Applied Research Collaboration in our region. We never had one before and it’s a huge investment. When we began in 2019, we had a direct grant of almost £9m – that is closer now to £20m in four years. It was the first network that brought all six North East and North Cumbria universities together in partnership and we work with a large number of NHS and other health and care organisations. It’s a huge network spread right across the region, from the cities to the rural and coastal areas, and I think there’s something quite inspiring about bringing all of those partners and assets together. Ultimately, it means getting the best prevention, treatment and care to encourage people to stay as well as they can for as long as possible.

What are the challenges of being a woman working in your sector?

It’s probably important to say I’m a mother of four children. Whilst they’re not children anymore, they’re mainly young adults, and it’s for me been about trying to balance the demands of motherhood – particularly when they were younger. At one point in my career I had a child in first school, middle school, high school and university, and so there was quite a lot of juggling! Parenting never stops. The juggling never stops, but you learn to juggle a bit better.

What advice would you give to other women working in your sector?

The best thing that happened to me – and I think it happened by chance – is when I began at the university, I began with a group of other women who were at a similar age and stage and we’ve stayed tightly knit throughout all of our careers. There’s never been a sense of competition. There’s been a good, strong sense of mutual support helping each other over challenges which come at you in life. But those people I regard as some of my best professional friends. So if you are in any sector and you can surround yourself with supportive colleagues, I would say that that is a really important thing to do. Invest in those relationships as you’re moving through your career, because we all need support from time to time.

What would you say the key challenges in your sector that currently prevent innovation from moving forward?

I think in the North, we sometimes do lack the investment that we need. If I think about my work in the university sector, we have a huge amount of our workforce that experiences short term contracts. That can be a barrier for innovation if you’re on a 1 or 2 year contract. One of the great things that we were able to achieve through having the investment in the ARC was to provide people with 4 to 5 year contracts. That meant they had sufficient time to work in partnership with colleagues in practice, members of the public, patients and carers so that they can co-produce and deliver work.  We need that investment to build and sustain relationships  to be able to drive forward innovation and impact, and get evidence into a domain where people can use it. We need time to see that cycle right through, beginning with co-production. But we need to attract talented people into our region and retain them as well. If you are well qualified and you’re good at what you do, other regions come looking and they like to recruit the staff that we have nurtured. I think we need to work out how to build a pipeline of talent but also how to retain some of our most talented individuals in in this region.

Do you find any particular challenges as a woman working in the North of England?

I think the North is fantastic place to live. I’m a Mancunian originally and I’ve lived in the North East since 1990. And in the North you’ve got a brilliant life quality – you can have access to wonderful outdoor spaces on your doorstep. I think we just need to make sure that we can continue to recruit and retain the best talent we can in, this part of the world, to improve our health and care services. We have a lot to offer people wanting to have great careers and great life quality. The North is the place to be!

You can follow the NIHR ARC North East North Cumbria on X (formerly Twitter) at @NIHR_ARC_NENC and Newcastle University at @UniofNewcastle

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