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Dementia the leading cause of death in England and Wales?? What is really going on?

NathanDavies29 November 2016

NDThis month Nathan Davies talks for the NIHR School for Primary Care Research about the news that dementia is now the leading cause fo death in England and Wales, and explains about some of the factors which may be underlying this revelation.

Last week we saw the Office for National Statistics announce that Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias have become the leading cause of death in England and Wales. It has replaced heart disease, with 61,686 out of 529,655 recorded deaths last year in England and Wales. Now this sounds all very alarming, but actually we know from recent studies that the incidence of dementia is falling. However, our population is ageing and therefore the prevalence of dementia is increasing. All a bit muddy.

But, why are we seeing dementia now as the leading cause of death? There are many reasons as to why this number has increased. We have seen an improvement in the diagnosis of dementia across the country, including the inclusion of dementia diagnosis in Local Enhanced Services in Primary Care. In addition to this doctors are now much more likely to record dementia as an underlying cause of death on death certificates and not simply record pneumonia for example.

Regardless of all the factors which lie behind this news, dementia is one of the biggest health concerns facing older people, and the health and social care systems. There is no cure or disease modifying treatment for dementia as yet and only this week we saw that a drug (solanezumab) which sounded promising last year, has been reported as unsuccessful in delaying or slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease.

With no known cure it is vital that not only does research into treatment, cure and prevention continue, but also that care based research continues. As a School the NIHR School for Primary Care Research currently funds many dementia care pieces of research, and I am fortunate enough to receive some of this funding.

My work at UCL focusses on end of life care for people with dementia. As part of this work I  am exploring the support and challenges that family carers of people with dementia face at the end of life. Families provide the majority of support to people with dementia and it is vital that they are supported too. Our study CADRE is developing a website to provide support for family carers when caring for someone with dementia at the end of life. We are still in the development stages of our study and building our prototype website, but keep an eye out as we will soon report what we think a website needs to include and how this should look! Initial suggestions include elements of networking and social interaction, including a function to identify other carers in the local area.

Ct_7Vp4WEAARbH4Our other study ‘After the Liverpool Care Pathway: What next for people with dementia?’, which has recently come to an end has developed a series of rules-of-thumb for practitioners providing end-of-life care for people with dementia. Our rules-of-thumb cover the core and most difficult decisions facing a practitioner at the end-of-life: eating/swallowing difficulties, providing routine care, reviewing treatment and interventions, and agitation and restlessness. The rules-of-thumb provide a practical toolkit for making decisions and make the implicit knowledge which has been built up over a number of years explicit. Potentially, this is a great method for training junior staff and those less experienced who work with people with dementia at the end-of-life, but it also provides practical and on-the-job assistance. The toolkit has been taken up by the Alzheimer’s Society who are currently looking at ways to implement it in their training packages.

Although the prevalence of dementia is increasing, and it is now the leading cause of death, it is important to realise, as a research community particularly within primary care and the School, that we are conducting timely studies in an effort to help health and social care practitioners, carers and those affected by dementia.

‘Doctors as Patients’: Exploring the barriers and facilitators to help seeking for mental health problems by GPs and improving access to support

NathanDavies16 November 2016

nov 2016Marta Buszewicz discusses the primary care mental health research project, exploring the mental health of general practitioners, which  is an NIHR School of Primary Care (SPCR) funded study which is still underway.

There has been a great deal written in the press about the considerable and increasing work pressures which general practitioners (GPs) in the UK are currently under, along with  significant financial constraints and difficulties recruiting sufficient new GPs to replace those who are leaving or retiring. Something which has been explored less are the emotional and mental health difficulties experienced by many GPs, which they are often reluctant to disclose or may feel unable to seek appropriate help for. There is evidence that doctors, including GPs, are more likely than the general population to experience mental health symptoms such as anxiety, depression, stress and burnout.

This qualitative study involved 47 interviews with a wide range of GPs recruited from a variety of locations and including the following groups: those currently living with anxiety, depression, stress and/or burnout; those returning to work following treatment for such conditions; those off sick or retired early due to mental health problems and those who have not personally experienced mental health problems but were interested in the project. The study proved quite easy to recruit to, with so many GPs approaching us wanting to take part that we had to turn quite a few away after interviewing more than the initial recruitment target of 40 participants. I think this indicates how many practitioners are likely to be suffering in silence, and who welcomed the opportunity to speak in confidence to an empathic researcher about the problems which they were experiencing.

The research team were struck by the very high levels of stress, depression and anxiety experienced by many of those interviewed. It was also clear that many felt quite isolated, and that it was difficult for participants to acknowledge their difficulties within the practices they work in for fear of burdening the other doctors working there. It is also very difficult for many GPs to seek professional help for their psychological problems, as they often have concerns about confidentiality if the GP they are registered with is someone who they know locally in a professional context. Many GPs are reluctant to take time off sick because of the impact this is likely to have on their colleagues’ workload, as well as difficulty getting appropriately qualified locums in the current climate.wordcloud

We have now finished interviewing all the participants and the analysis is underway. Preliminary results were outlined in a recent British Journal of General Practice (BJGP) editorial. Which you can download here.

An innovative component of our research project is that it has also informed two performances in November at an Arts Festival in Bristol . Which we have discussed in a recent BJGP blog.

In writing up the final results from this project and describing and discussing the various issues involved, we aim to highlight the emotional component of most GPs’ workload and encourage the primary care community to openly recognise this and be more supportive of each other. We also plan to make recommendations which can inform the provision of appropriate services for distressed GPs and which they can access without necessarily going through their GP if confidentiality is an issue.

I will give further details when the results of the study have been published.  It is being led from Bristol – more details of the project and the study team are available on the Bristol website.

This blog describes independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research School for Primary Care Research (NIHR SPCR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR, the NHS or the Department of Health.

HIV in Primary Care

NathanDavies11 October 2016

In this post Dr Surinder Singh talks about his interest in HIV and a recent campaign around HIV in primary care. HIV

I have a long interest in HIV – I’m not entirely sure why but I know it started when two jobs were advertised many years ago (I really do mean many) aiming to “facilitate the care of people with HIV/AIDS in the community”.  At the time I had just completed an excellent general practitioner (GP) vocational training scheme in London and was in the middle of a community paediatric job in South London – interesting and hard but it was never going to be a long-term career move.

Thus, my first role on the unit for people affected by HIV was at the old the St. Stephen’s hospital – the ward was invariably busy since this was very much pre-retroviral therapy and individuals would often be admitted in the terminal stages of the conditions which make up AIDS. I then went on to be the Principal Medical Officer at London Lighthouse – in a great airy building in Ladbroke Grove, London W11.

Ever since I have maintained that interest in HIV and working in a borough of London with one of the highest prevalence rates made this particularly relevant and tangible.  And, over the years though my interest in HIV/AIDS has never disappeared – my involvement dropped, largely because the other pressures within general practice took over (those of you in general practice will know what I mean – finance, staffing, management, performance levels, the care quality commission).

It was therefore with great timing that over the past year or so – several HIV-related projects presented themselves to me; the chance to update the Medfash* book [HIV in Primary Care: an essential guide for GPs, practice nurses and other members of the primary care health team) and an opportunity to work with the British HIV Association (BHIVA) on attempting to “define and explore the role of primary care in the provision of quality healthcare for people living with HIV”.

Along the way I’ve also been working with the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and ViiV looking at ways of optimising HIV-testing; the latest figures from public health suggest that there are around 18,000 people in the UK with HIV infection but who are, as yet, unidentified.  While it is easy to point fingers at primary care, it is clear that HIV is being missed within hospital departments, including casualty and out-patients. Thus a new campaign has recently launched encouraging all clinicians – general practitioners included – to focus on patients presenting in primary care with what could be symptoms of HIV. The imperative is, quite simply, to test (www.changethefaceofHIV.co.uk).   Just so that you know the campaign is being promoted through a series of online banner advertising slots running across GP Online, Pulse and BMJ.com, directing people to the HIV awareness in primary care – website (www.changethefaceofHIV.co.uk) where the Change the Face of HIV film can be viewed.

So, it’s been a busy year – several HIV-projects coming together in a synthesis which is both systematic and, hopefully, can change lead to practical change.  If after viewing any of the campaign material, clinicians convert their thinking to testing for HIV it will have done its job.

If there are questions or queries I’d be happy to try and answer them? If you have specific comments about the film – do forward them to me in the first instance

*MEDFASH (Medical Foundation for HIV & Sexual Health) is is an independent charity dedicated to quality in HIV and sexual healthcare. It has published HIV in Primary Care: an essential guide for GPs, practice nurses and other members of the primary healthcare team. 3rd Ed. P. Matthews, S. Madge, S. Singh & N. Theobald. The booklet can be ordered by contacting enquiries@medfash.bma.org.uk or the pdf purchased directly at: www.medfash.org.uk

Post-script: Medfash has recently announced that it will cease to function after December 2016 (please visit Medfash for more details).

Digital health interventions: Hype or hope?

NathanDavies5 October 2016


In this post originally written for the BMJ and posted on blogs.bmj.com/ce, Prof Elizabeth Murray talks about digital health interventions in the NHS.

Digitising the NHS is back in the news with the publication of the Wachter report on using IT in the NHS to achieve healthcare’s triple aim of better health, better healthcare and lower cost. As Wachter says, not “giving highest priority to digitisation would be a costly and painful mistake”.[1] 

Although the report focuses on digitising secondary care, many of the recommendations are equally applicable to digital health interventions (DHI). DHI are interventions delivered on a digital platform, such as the web or mobile phones, which aim to deliver health care or health promotion, including behaviour change,[2][3] self-management support,[4] or treatments such as Internet Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (ICBT). Because of their potential to combine personalisation with scalability, they hold out real hope for delivering better health, better healthcare and lower costs, but the potential has yet to be realised, despite the millions of commercial “health apps” available.

Achieving the potential of DHI will require investment, research and development. Wachter recommends the NHS “digitise for the correct reasons” – for DHI this means identifying a clear clinical need, where a treatment or education programme is known to improve health, and where the treatment or education can be delivered effectively and at lower cost, on a digital platform compared to face to face. For the benefits of scalability to be realised, DHI must reach large sections of the population, but at present, low engagement by users often limits effectiveness. As Wachter says “it is better to get digitisation right than to do it quickly” and “health IT Systems must embrace user-centered design”. Developing DHI that are effective, acceptable to patients and health care professionals and that fit with NHS workflows takes time, effort and substantive user design. Our self-management programme for people with type 2 diabetes (HeLP-Diabetes) took 2 years to develop, and involved a multi-disciplinary team of patients, clinicians, behavioural scientists, health service researchers, software and web-designers. It was developed around user requirements, had a strong theoretical underpinning, and all content was evidence-based. We believe that this extensive input was essential for achieving the high levels of acceptability to patients and health care professionals, as well as the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness demonstrated in an RCT (submitted for publication).

Wachter also emphasises the importance of investing in effective implementation of digital resources, advising that benefit realisation requires ongoing investment, workforce development, and adaptive, as well as technical, change. Our work with HeLP-Diabetes reinforces this advice. We showed that if health professionals invested a small amount of time (less than 5 minutes) in promoting the programme and encouraging patients to use it, uptake was significantly increased, and the digital divide was overcome. However, many general practices struggled to invest even this small amount of time.

Are DHI worth the investment in research and implementation? For answer, I’d like to quote Wachter again:

To those who wonder whether the NHS can afford an ambitious effort to digitise in today’s environment of austerity and a myriad of ongoing challenges, we believe the answer is clear: the one thing that NHS cannot afford to do is to remain a largely non-digital system. It is time to get on with IT.


Reflections of a Novice researcher

NathanDavies20 July 2016

In this post Marie-Laure from the eHealth Unit talks about her experiences of entering the scary world of academia. A very funny post which I am sure many of us can relate to in one way or another. 


I always enjoyed research as an undergraduate and was thirsty for some time to gain in-depth knowledge of one particular field. A two-year part-time academic clinical fellowship (ACF) sounded perfect: I could balance my time between being a GP Registrar and a researcher. The eHealth Unit immediately caught my attention – I had seen what a difference technology could make in a hospital setting and wanted to know all about primary care and public health applications. I was hooked by the dream of developing an app that would save billions of pounds for the NHS, educate people by the millions and save thousands of lives! I let my imagination run away. When I pictured the eHealth Unit at UCL, I saw what I imagine a tech start-up in Silicon Valley to look like: people riding down corridors on segways, ordering their morning coffee from the full-time barista on site, free massage twice a day etc. I stayed up until the early hours completing my ACF application form powered by the thought of the free Coco Pops and Nobel Peace Prizes that would surely come my way. ·


Application form submitted: tick. Interview granted: tick. Interview preparation: HELP? Clearly I couldn’t mention the peace prizes and segways in the interview. Yes I enjoyed research as a medical student, but I only had two mediocre publications. Plus, did I really want to be an academic? Would I have to start wearing glasses and spraying Eau de Old Library Book every day? ‘Research’ sounds very nice. But what is it exactly? How were the other ACFs I spoke to so certain of their chosen path in life? Had the Academia Fairy visited them in their sleep?

Enter Professor Murray, who just said: calm down, and be honest. I couldn’t say for sure that I wanted to do a PhD and pursue a career in academic general practice because I didn’t have any real experience of research. And that’s exactly what I told the interview panel. So yes, I was surprised when I was offered the fellowship.


First day at the eHealth Unit. Free coffee! (Who cares that it’s instant?) My first few weeks were spent familiarising myself with the Unit’s existing work, especially HeLP- Diabetes, the impressive NIHR-funded type 2 diabetes self-management programme, and getting a real sense for what research should look like.

Time to get to grips with my own project. I had exchanged a number of emails with Professor Murray before my start date, and had chosen diabetes prevention as my research topic. I spent at least a month reading and thinking (a true pleasure compared to the pace of seeing patients in general practice). I refined my research questions: what is the evidence that diabetes is preventable? What is the evidence that lifestyle modifications can help to prevent or delay the onset of diabetes in high risk populations? Which components of lifestyle interventions are effective and how do these work? Most importantly: can digital interventions help with these effective components?

With a good grasp of the current literature, I set about planning my research project. The eventual aim might be to develop a complex (digital) intervention so I familiarised myself with the MRC guidance. The first step in any complex intervention is to carry out a thorough ‘Needs and Wants’ assessment, i.e. qualitative work that would be used together with existing frameworks and literature reviews to inform an eventual digital intervention.

It was soon clear that I would need to apply for some funding for this and I put together a rough draft for the SPCR FR11 Grant. This was my first grant proposal. The first time I designed a study protocol. The first time I costed a study and recruited PPI input. The first time I provided the scientific rationale for a study. Does this officially make me a researcher now? I think so. With the help of two brilliant PPI and a very experienced team I put together a grant application. I was over the moon – on a Segway Rocket with a personalized PR0F3SS0R number plate – when I was told it had been successful.

Since the funding was granted I’ve been finding out about ethics and R&D approvals, and exactly why everyone sighs and looks at me pitifully when I say what stage I’m at. Yes, it’s a slow process. But I feel like a real researcher. And I know all the acronyms so feel like I’m part of the gang now. IRAS, HRA, REC, NoCLOR, CRN, PAF, DRN, DSH: no problem.


So while free massages and Coco Pops haven’t featured thus far, I can’t say I’m disappointed. I’ve discovered what it’s like to conceive and own a research project and to feel like I have in-depth knowledge of a particular field (no matter how niche digital diabetes prevention may be). I can now say with confidence that I like research. Plus there are many other perks. I’ve attended a number of useful courses and I’ve had to think and learn about marketing strategies, social media and coordinating efforts across the team; skills that are rarely developed at this stage of GP training. And the work environment is incredibly supportive. I feel like I am part of a wider network, with many opportunities.

I also love the mix between clinical work and research. It’s easy to feel frantic and overworked in general practice. The two and half days I spend on my research offer an antidote to this. I’ve found the research has kept me interested in the wider picture too; the background and the many ‘why?s’ that crop up during my consultations. It’s sometimes difficult to balance the two, but none of it is insurmountable.

So, do I want to do a PhD? I can’t say for sure yet. But I wouldn’t be disappointed if the Academia Fairy visited me in my sleep now.

Human-computer interaction

NathanDavies12 July 2016

In this post, Nikki Newhouse from the eHealth Unit and UCLIC talks about her visit to the CHI’2016 conference in San Jose, California.

Exhibit Hall Grand Opening

Exhibit Hall Grand Opening

In early May, I visited San Jose in California for CHI’16, the biggest annual conference in the HCI (human-computer interaction) calendar. Held over the course of a week, the conference’s scope is enormous, attracting around 3,000 international delegates who come to learn about and discuss how people interact with technology. Delegates are drawn from a wide range of disciplines and it’s an active, exciting event, where academics and students mix and engage directly with entrepreneurs, designers, industry experts and commercial leaders.

I attended as a participant in the CHI’16 Doctoral Consortium (DC). The DC brings together a small, international group of postgraduate students to explore and develop their research under the guidance of an expert panel. Competition to take part is high: 15 places were allocated from 67 applications and I was honoured to be the only student selected from the UK. The panel consisted of Hilary Hutchinson (Google), Alan Borning (University of Washington) and Yvonne Rogers (UCL). Participation in the DC involves attending a 2-day pre-conference workshop during which all attendees present key aspects of their research and receive constructive feedback from the group and panel on how to take their work forward. There was also the opportunity to develop networking skills and chat informally with invited guests from industry and academia.


CHI’s class of 2016

CHI’s class of 2016

Consortium attendees’ presentations represented the huge range of interests, questions and approaches that come under the exciting HCI research umbrella. I presented my multidisciplinary research on the use of technology in the transition to first time parenthood; other students’ work included projects on collaborative writing, working with service dogs, how people interact with digital books, rethinking the role of smart cities from a perspective of supporting wellbeing, and designing digital tools for dispersed populations with rare diseases. As well as gaining valuable presentation practice and personalised feedback, we presented a poster within the main conference and our extended abstracts were published in the highly-regarded CHI Extended Abstracts, available in the ACM Digital Library.

Fun with Lego at the participatory design workshop

Fun with Lego 

The conference benefits from standout keynote speakers from academia and industry and a multi-track programme that includes talks, workshops, courses, lunches, a job fair, interactive demonstrations, special interest groups and even ‘alt.chi’, a forum for ‘controversial presentations’. I attended an exceptional course on positive computing and designing for wellbeing, facilitated by Prof. Rafael Calvo  and Dorian Peters (both University of Sydney) in which we explored approaches to evaluating and designing for wellbeing determinants like autonomy, competence, connectedness, meaning, and compassion. I also attended a hands-on course in participatory design methods, hosted by Aarhus University’s Susanne Bödker, Christian Dindler , Ole Sejer Iversen and Kim Halskov. The course gave an overview of participatory design history, practices and methods. Basically, we had a great time solving design challenges with Lego!

Attending CHI’16 has been one of the standout experiences of my PhD and I feel extremely privileged to be one of the ‘Class of 2016’. HCI is an exciting field to work in: it combines academic rigour and methodological pluralism with fun, curiosity and an inherently pragmatic approach to problem solving. CHI’17 will be held in Denver and I’m already excited about attending!

Patient-Centred Care

NathanDavies23 June 2016

In this post Kingshuk Pal talks about patinet-centred care and what does it mean?

Everyone agrees that patient-centred care is a good thing. But what exactly does that mean? And why should we bother?

There are many definitions of patient-centred care. The simplest involves “understanding the patient as a unique human being”. More technical definitions involve lists of interconnecting components like: (1) exploring both the disease and the illness experience; (2) understanding the whole person; (3) finding common ground regarding management; (4) incorporating prevention and health promotion; (5) enhancing the doctor–patient relationship; (6) ‘being realistic’ about personal limitations and issues such as the availability of time and resources.

But true patient-centred care is also professional-centred care. It recognises that health professionals are not automated healthcare dispensers mechanically processing each complaint in robotic monotony. Healthcare professionals are unique human beings too. The doctor is a drug. Healing comes from connections as much as from prescriptions.

We are constantly driven to become more efficient. To do more in less time. But as we get busier and more productive, we give our patients less attention; we give them less of ourselves. We connect with them less.

What can we gain by challenging the paradigms of efficiently delivered, protocol-driven, evidence-based standardised care? What happens when we treat patients as people and give them our attention rather than a prescription?

This is one example based on a true story published in the Lancet last week:


Pharmacovigilance at PRIMENT

NathanDavies6 May 2016

What is pharmacovigilance and why is it important?Charlene Green

Pharmacovigilance (PV) is the science and activities relating to the detection, assessment, understanding and prevention of adverse events or any other drug-related problems. It’s an important discipline because it allows us to find out what safety issues relate to a drug with the aim of improving patient care and safety. Without pharmacovigilance we would be giving potentially harmful drugs to patients without monitoring their effects! There is also a specific legal requirement to monitor the safety of drugs in clinical trials.

So what are we doing here at Priment?

Historically, Priment has typically been involved with non-drug clinical trials (psychological interventions, qualitative research etc.) but there has been a desire over the past year or so to expand the research portfolio to include clinical trials of investigational medicinal products (CTIMPs) i.e. drug trials. To be able to achieve this Priment has excitingly developed a PV system and we can now support researchers at all stages throughout a trial with their PV needs. It’s an exciting time for the unit as we are taking on PV responsibilities for two really interesting trials, KIWE and PANDA.

KIWE is a trial that is investigating the use of the ketogenic diet in infants that have epilepsy. They would otherwise have to rely on years of anti-epileptic drug treatment so the findings will be really important for these children and their families. The trial team are based at the Institute of Child Health.

The PANDA trial is comparing the use of an anti-depressant drug (sertraline) with placebo in patients that have depression to find out who might fully benefit from anti-depressants. The team are based at the Institute of Psychiatry and we are also working with them on another trial that will join the Priment portfolio in a few months.


PV in clinical trials is new to many of the researchers working at/with Priment so we wanted to be able to ensure a consistent approach to this aspect of our work and to be sure that we are working in line with the regulations. By centralising PV we are taking away a barrier to starting work on CTIMP trials and hopefully giving researchers an added benefit of working with Priment as we expand our portfolio.

How Priment supports CTIMPs

We are involved from the protocol development stage right through to trial closure and provide support on protocol development, adverse event management, training, periodic safety reporting and the management of reference safety information (to name a few things!). We are here to support trial teams throughout the clinical trial lifecycle and will endeavour to do our best to provide answers to queries and problem-solve whenever necessary.

What does this mean for Priment?

Priment ‘sits’ within 2 of UCL’s Institutes – the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care  (IEHC) and the recently formed Institute of Clinical Trials and Methodology (ICTM).  The inclusion of clinical trials into Priment’s work allows us to contribute to the achievement of the aims of both, notably ‘Evaluating strategies for the prevention & treatment of physical ill health’ (IEHC) and ‘To improve local, national and global health by conducting clinical trials and other well-designed studies’ (ICTM).

What next?

The Priment portfolio of CTIMPs is expanding and we are working on 2 more trials which we hope will be open by late 2016/early 2017. They are RADAR and ANTLER:

The RADAR trial is comparing the use of an anti-psychotic drug reduction programme with maintenance treatment in patients that have schizophrenia and psychosis. By slowly tapering patients off their treatment it is hoped that the unpleasant side-effects of the drugs may be avoided while hopefully keeping patients well.

The ANTLER trial is also investigating a drug reduction programme but this is for patients with depression. An anti-depressant drug reduction programme is being compared to maintenance treatment to find out which types of patients can benefit from reduced drug treatment.

For more information about PV at Priment, or to find out how we may assist you with your trial please contact Charlene Green (PV Coordinator).

One marathon, two marathon, who will do the third..?

NathanDavies3 May 2016

An incredible achievement from two members of the department this month. Emma Dunphy and Ann Liljas have both completed a marathon!! Congratulations both! They have given us a short overview of their experiences – any one tempted to run next year..?

Both Myself and Ann Liljas have just completed a marathon. No, not the metaphorical marathons of academic work that PCPH people complete all the time, but an actual marathon.  Ann ran Rotterdam Marathon 2 weeks ago and I ran London Marathon last Sunday. Perhaps it’s worth adding that global average (median) for women completing a marathon in 2014 was 4 hours 42 minutes and 33 seconds.  Here is a little of our experience.


Marathon training requires quite a lot of preparation and having signed up for Rotterdam marathon in April motivated me during the dark and cold winter months to get up early and go for a run before work. Doing several laps around Regent’s Park on my way to work sometimes made me wonder if it was just me running like an idiot at 7am in the dark in order to build up endurance for a long-distance run. On race day those morning runs felt incredibly far away – the sun was shining and I was surrounded by 30,000 other runners in colourful clothes. This was my fourth marathon (of which one was part of an ironman) and my goal was to get a new personal best. Based on my previous experience I know that my greatest strength is that I can keep running at the same pace for a long time. So I started at a pace that felt challenging yet manageable. After three quarters of the run I started feeling lack of energy but managed to keep going albeit slightly slower. But when I saw the finish line in the horizon I thought I better spend any energy left and managed to increase my speed a little. I completed the marathon in 3 hours 33 minutes and 4 seconds – a new personal record by five minutes.


I thought I would hate all the training but actually the routine of running to or from work and around the canals, hills, and grotty neighbourhoods of London has been a real pleasure. Well… most of the time. I ran for the Terence Higgins Trust, a charity for sexual health and people living with HIV. It’s a wonderful cause and it was motivating when the race got tough.

On race day, I was absolutely terrified. Even though I had trained well and avoided injury, it was just nerve racking to be facing such a distance,  with what felt like the whole world watching.  Everything you hear about the crowd lifting you was true, especially with family and friends dotted along the way. Ann was cheering for me at mile 13 but I somehow missed her amongst all the other cheers. I hobbled in at 4 hours 23 minutes, exhausted but very proud. I celebrated with group of friends and some paracetemol. What a day!

A secondment at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

NathanDavies16 December 2015

Rosa Lau, PhD student (PCPH), talks about her experience of working in Tsinghua University, China.

I was recently lucky enough to spend one month on a secondment at Tsinghua University in Beijing China, through the Ubi-HEALTH program. The main focus of the Ubi-HEALTH exchange program is to build and establish a network to disseminate knowledge regarding available technologies for healthcare to be shared between students, researchers and host institutions between different countries.  It primarily operates in Europe, Mexico, Chile, China and the USA.

Tsinghua university

Tsinghua University (清华大学) was established in 1911 and is ranked as one of the best universities in mainland China. The university covers an area of 392 hectares and facilities include sports centres, book shops, banks, hospitals, primary and secondary schools, community centres, cafes, supermarkets, and over 10 dining halls and restaurants.  On my first day, I was advised to buy a second hand bike just to travel within and around campus.

Over the one month period, I worked in the Research Institute of Information Technology with Professor Yongqiang Lyu and his team. There are a number of Research and Development (R&D) Centres within the research institute including the Future Information Technology (FIT) Centre and eHealth Centre.

Health Kiosk

Professor Lyu and his team developed an interactive self-service healthcare kiosk for the community. The kiosk integrates various medical devices and sensors for assessing the physiological characteristics of users, such as blood pressure, electrocardiography (ECG), pulse rate, blood glucose, blood oxygen, body composition (e.g. height, weight, body mass index, body water, muscle mass, body fat, waist-hip ratio) enabling an overall health score to be computed. Following use, a summary results report can be printed. In addition, users can access their digital report on their mobile phones and share the information with their friends and family via WeChat (a mobile text and voice messaging communication service, similar to WhatsApp) or, by scanning the QR (Quick Response) code provided in the paper report. A QR barcode can store a large amount of data that enables links to videos, Twitter or website pages. Some work around testing accuracy with users was carried out previously and the product is currently undergoing commercial deployment.

While on my secondment  I visited the China Open Tennis Tournament to observe how the health care kiosk was delivered and used in this particular setting (i.e. a public event), as well as people’s experience with the kiosk . Its use was facilitated by staff to ensure smooth operations in between tennis games. My field notes along with some implications and design recommendations (e.g. interpretation of results, graphical user interface (GUI)) were shared and discussed with the team. I also produced a document outlining a number of issues to consider if it were to be implemented and/or delivered in other settings, such as office buildings. In addition, I helped develop the educational content, particularly information related to blood pressure, body mass index, basal metabolic rate and cardiovascular disease, as well as lifestyle options and healthy living, all of which were based on evidence. All of this work has contributed towards the next phase of intervention development, ready for evaluation at a later stage.

Seminar picture

Towards the end of the secondment, I gave a seminar to a group of graduate students. The seminar covered the following areas:

  • Brief introduction to the eHealth unit at UCL
  • How the Medical Research Council Framework can be used to develop and evaluate e-health technologies using a few examples from the unit
  • Introduced the concept of implementation, why it is important, issues we need to consider and how it can be studied (my PhD project)

The presentation was well received – the students were very engaged and asked some really interesting questions. After the seminar I was asked by the students to stay and sit in their group meetings where they discussed their projects and received feedback from their tutors. It was an informal event and participation was voluntary. It was exciting to hear about their innovative work related to health and education. It was a stimulating environment, where they all shared their progress and challenges.

Beside work, I was invited to a formal welcome lunch and numerous meals with staff and students. I took a trip to Yuanmingyuan (also known as the Old Summer Palace) with the students, as well as visiting other well-known areas such as the Tiananmen Square, some Hutongs (old city alleys), Lama Temple and 398 Art district. I also had the opportunity to watch a live tennis female doubles match at the China Open!

Overall it was an invaluable experience to live and work in China. I am extremely grateful to Ubi-HEALTH program for the opportunity and to Professor Lyu’s group for their kind hospitality.

For more information contact Rosa Lau.