Understanding health

Professor April McMahon, Vice-chancellor of Aberystwyth University, and Mr Trevor Purt, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda Health Board, sign the Memorandum of Understanding.

Professor April McMahon, Vice-chancellor of Aberystwyth University, and Mr Trevor Purt, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda Health Board, sign the Memorandum of Understanding.

28 November 2011

Aberystwyth University and the Hywel Dda Health Board have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that will pave the way for greater collaboration in areas of research, continuing professional development and provision of shared services.

The University and the Health Board are also working towards establishing a Professorial Chair in areas of mutual interest such as how people in rural areas access health services and support, and general health and well-being.

The new agreement builds on existing collaboration between the University and the Hywel Dda Health Board in areas of research.

One such project has been looking at strategies to prevent falls amongst the frail and elderly and has involved staff at the University’s Department of Sports and Exercise Science, Bronglais General Hospital and Age Concern Ceredigion.

In a new area of research, psychologists at the University are working with Aberystwyth based charity The Beacon of Hope on evaluating the effectiveness of home based tele-health kits for patients and their carers in rural areas. These kits enable patients to have face to face conversations with health care professionals rather than on the ‘phone.

Both these areas of research have received support through the Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships (KESS) scheme, supported by the European Social Fund through the Welsh Government’s Convergence programme.

The new agreement will also open up opportunities for junior doctors at Bronglais General Hospital to use the excellent study facilities the University has to offer and develop research opportunities with academic departments.

Students following degree programmes at the University’s Departments of Psychology and Sports and Exercise Science will also benefit from lectures given by medical professionals from the Hywel Dda Health Board.

There are also possibilities for the Hywel Dda Health Board to adopt some of the tried and tested technologies used by the University for distance learning and recording of lectures to provide on-going training for doctors, pharmacists and other health professionals.

Professor April McMahon, Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University said: “This is a very exciting development. The rural nature of Mid and West Wales means that Aberystwyth University and the Hywel Dda Health Board have much in common when it comes to delivering services, and much to share in terms of solutions for the benefit of the communities we serve. The creation of a Chair will provide a focus for applied research having direct benefit for the local community, and the wider population, at a time of change and challenge for health care services."

The Memorandum of Understanding, which was signed by Professor April McMahon of Aberystwyth University and Mr Trevor Purt, Chief Executive of the Hywel Dda Health Board, is for an initial period of 3 years.

Examples of research being undertaken by staff at Aberystwyth University in health and well-being.

1.    Exploring the use of tele-care to improve the psychological needs and well-being of palliative care patients’ and carers’ residing in a rural setting

Dr Rachel Rahman from the Psychology Department in collaboration with Dr Joanne Thatcher from the Department of Sport and Exercise Science has embarked an exciting new project this year following a successful application for funding of a Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships (KESS) award. KESS is part-funded under the European Social Fund Convergence Programme administered by the Welsh Government. The project is being conducted in conjunction with the local hospice, The Beacon of Hope and will be examining the effectiveness of home based tele-health kits in rural palliative care. The home based tele-health kits aim to provide an opportunity for more regular face-to-face communication between rural patients and their carers with specialist nurses and opportunity for medical professionals to pre-assess rural patients before deciding whether there is a need for hospital admission. The project aims to explore the effectiveness of the kits for improving palliative care patients' and their carers' psychological needs and well-being as well as the opinions of the medical professionals in their use in this context. The project will run over three years and will be carried out by Joseph Keenan who was successfully awarded the KESS PhD studentship.

2.    Falls prevention. Dr. Samantha Winter and Dr. Joanne Thatcher, Department of Sport and Exercise Science, Aberystwyth University

The Falls Research Group has been active since May 2009 and is part of the Physical Activity in Ageing, Rehabilitation and Health research theme within the Department of Sport and Exercise Science.  We aim to identify the psychological, physiological and biomechanical risk factors for falls in older adults that can be modified by physical activity and health behaviours.  A central theme of our research is the use of exercise programmes in the rehabilitation and prevention of falls.  There is a lot of evidence that strength and balance training can prevent falls and help older people maintain their mobility and independence.  However, these programmes can be difficult to deliver in rural locations.  Therefore, we are trying to find out exactly how much and what type of exercise provokes the adaptations that will allow older people to avoid falls.  For example, it is important that people become physically stronger and more confident in their ability to move around without falling.  They also need to be motivated to keep up with their exercise and stay active over a long period.  We need to know how we can deliver these exercise programmes in rural areas so that older people can achieve this required amount of training.  Finally, we are interested in whether early interventions can help people avoid frailty, so we are looking at the psychological and physiological processes involved in the transition to older age.  For example, we want to know how changes in the way people think of themselves (their sense of identity and self-perception) affects how well they look after themselves and whether they choose to participate in exercise so that they avoid falls.  We work closely with the NHS, social services and voluntary organisations such as the Hywel Dda and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Boards, the Ceredigion Strategic Falls Group, Age Concern Ceredigion and Cantref (Care and Repair Cymru), and the Older People and Ageing Research and Development Network (OPAN) Wales.

The initial stages of this research were funded as part of a KESS scholarship.