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On Wednesday 11th October 2023, an enthusiastic team from ESMI undertook a Volunteering Day from the University of Exeter to Poltimore House on the outskirts of Exeter.

This fascinating building goes back to 1560 and since then has been a private house, an academy for young ladies, an evacuation centre during World War 2, a hospital and a private nursing home before falling into disrepair after a fire in 1987.  The house appeared on the BBC Restoration programme in 2003.

Making the most of a dry autumnal day, the team undertook some tasks in the grounds including turf removal to reinstate a path as well has hedge trimming – although this was a bit of an understatement as the hedges had not seen any maintenance in over 50 years!  But a day of manual work was good fun compared to our usual desk-based day jobs.

We were also treated to a tour around the house, which was most interesting.

Everyone had a great day – it was a joy to be outside and away from screens, and to be able to help a charity so close to home.  We look forward to a return visit in 2024.

With thanks to Carol at Poltimore House for her time and enthusiasm, to Becky, Jenny and Sue for organising, and to Mary, Ahmed, Alan, Alison, Morwenna, Jo and Sam for putting in some serious hard graft!

The winners of the prestigious National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS) 2023 have been announced by Advance HE. This year, Professor G.J Melendez-Torres and Professor Catherine Gallop have been chosen as National Teaching Fellows for their work in public health teaching and clinical education. Congratulations!

Simon Briscoe’s PhD titled Bridging formalisation and expert judgment in searches for studies for systematic reviews was awarded on 11th July. This was supervised by G.J. Melendez-Torres and Rebecca Abbott, and undertaken by publication route. The thesis explores the development of guidance and evidence-based practice for the identification of studies for systematic reviews, with a particular focus on forward citation searching and web searching, and the need for expert judgement even after clearly defined methods are established.

Members of two ESMI teams joined forces at the recent Faculty of Health Life Sciences Summer Celebration event which was held in the Great Hall.  The summer celebration showcased activity from across the research, education and professional services activity of the faculty, and included celebrations of 10 years of the Medical School and 15 years of genetic sequencing at Exeter.  Sian de Bell and Zhivko Zhelev from the Exeter HSDR Evidence Synthesis Centre and Liz Shaw and Simon Briscoe from the Exeter PRP Evidence Review Facility were on hand to talk about some of their recent work commissioned to inform national policy making.  They shared examples of how they share their findings with policy customers, clinicians, and members of the public and provided attendees with the opportunity to explore some interactive evidence and gap maps.  More details of recent projects undertaken by the teams can be found here and here.

Congratulations to Becky Whear who has been appointed as an Exeter based Early Career Researcher (ECR) Representative. Becky will join our existing Exeter based rep, Dr Marie Ryder (Physics). Further details on Early Career Researcher Networks can be found here.

Alison Bethel, one of our information specialists in the Evidence Synthesis Team, took part in two panels at the Evidence Synthesis and Meta-Analysis in R Conference (ESMARConf). ESMARConf is a FREE a conference dedicated to raising awareness of open source tools in R for undertaking evidence syntheses.

The conference is coordinated by the Evidence Synthesis Hackathon which is a group that brings together researchers and coders to develop tools for evidence synthesis. ESMARConf is in its third year and many of the presentations and workshops are freely available from its website, Alison presented a 2-hour crash course last year on searching for studies which has been viewed over 800 times. This year, Alison was a panel member on discussions about information retrieval and the benefits and challenges of taking part in a hackathon.

Click on over to the ESMARConf website where recordings of many of the sessions are available to watch on Youtube – there are discussions and presentations on everything from planning a review to network meta-analysis using R and advanced GitHub.

Becky Whear from the PenARC Evidence Synthesis Team attended the International Generations Working Together conference in Glasgow in March to present her work on the role of intergenerational practice in health and social care. Becky, and colleague, Fiona Campbell from Newcastle University delivered a workshop on their recently published interactive evidence and gap map which contains almost 500 research studies. As a result of connections made at the conference, Becky and Fiona have been invited to give further workshops at the Generations United conference in Washington D.C. and at the Australian Institute for Intergenerational Practice.

Further information about the conference can be found on the Evidence Synthesis Team blog.


We are currently advertising the following two posts, focussing on the Medical Technologies Evaluation Programme for NICE :

For an informal discussion please contact Ed Wilson

The Society’s next Annual Scientific Meeting will take place 6th-9th September 2022 at the University of Exeter. The event is hosted by the University of Exeter and will include a range of stellar keynote speakers, expert panelists, themed parallel sessions, plenaries and workshops. Early Career Researchers can also meet the day before, on Tuesday 6th September.

Why should I attend?

Social medicine is the study of health in its widest sense. It covers a range of subjects including epidemiology, the medical and health needs of society, health services, and the prevention of disease. This conference spans all research that addresses important issues in population health sciences and includes qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches. Everyone interested in population health sciences can come together to share information and network in a rigorous yet friendly atmosphere.

Who attends?

We are thus a broad family, spanning a wide range of disciplines, including public health, epidemiology, social sciences, economics, psychology, health services research, disease prevention, policy and political science. Last year, our virtual conference attracted almost 300 participants from all over the world. Participants ranged from students to senior academics, from policy makers to the wider public health community. Check our website or Twitter for further details and regular updates.


Congratulations to Professor G.J. Melendez Torres who has been selected to join the American Academy of Nursing 2020 Class of Fellows.

On 6th August 2020, the American Academy of Nursing (Academy) announced that it has selected 230 distinguished nurse leaders to join the 2020 Class of Fellows. The inductees will be recognized for their significant contributions to health and health care at the Academy’s annual Transforming Health, Driving Policy Conference, taking place virtually on 29-31 October 2020.

The American Academy of Nursing serves the public by advancing health policy and practice through the generation, synthesis, and dissemination of nursing knowledge. Academy Fellows are inducted into the organization for their extraordinary contributions to improve health locally and globally. With more than 2,700 Fellows, the Academy represents nursing’s most accomplished leaders in policy, research, administration, practice, and academia.

Learn more about the Academy and visit the virtual policy conference website for more details.

In March 2020 the NIHR Clinical Research Network South West Peninsula will be holding its Research Awards to celebrate innovation and excellence in health research across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset.

Over 190 nominations were submitted for twelve awards and an expert panel then shortlisted based on impact and achievements of the outstanding individuals and teams that make a significant contribution towards NIHR portfolio health and social care research delivery within the region.

It was excellent to see so many of our ESMI colleagues amongst the list of nominations and we would like to pass on our congratulations to the following:

Public Engagement Award

  • Shortlisted : PaReNt Systematic Review Project – Rebecca Whear, Harriet Hunt, Kate Boddy, Alison Bethel

Outstanding Research Contribution Team Award

  • Shortlisted : PenCHORD – Martin Pitt, Dan Chalk, Mike Allen, Sean Manzi, Kerry Pearn, Andrew Salmon, Sarah Carter, Ken Stein

Nominated :

  • NIHR ARC South West - Jo Thompson Coon, Becca Abbott, Noreen Orr, Alison Bethel, Morwenna Rogers, Harriet Hunt, Becky Whear
  • University of Exeter – Michael Nunns, Liz Shaw and Simon Briscoe
  • NIHR ARC South West - Martin Pitt, Dan Chalk, Mike Allen, Sean Manzi, Kerry Pearn, Andrew Salmon, Sarah Carter, Ken Stein

Congratulations also to our colleagues in the PPI team who were also shortlisted – Kate Boddy, Kristin Liabo, Emma Cockcroft, Tanya Hynd, Nicky Britten; to Felix Gradinger and Julian Elston nominated in the Innovation Award, and to Cath Hopkins nominated in the Research Administrator or Co-ordinator Award.

We wish everyone the very best of luck!


Here at St Luke’s Campus, several groups have been set up over the last year or so help try and get the right balance between workload and wellbeing while in the work place.

Singing@StLukes came about at the end of 2018, following the success of a flash mob choir at the IHR Away Day.  Many of the group who sang that day were keen to carry on singing, and during 2019 met weekly at St Luke’s led by Claire Anstee, an experienced leader of community choirs as well as a private singing tutor.  The Group performed at the Staff Festival as well as Sing While You’re Digging with the St Luke’s Gardening Group.

Crafting at St Lukes started following a successful fundraising session for Crafternoon for MIND.  This group meets monthly and over the year has contributed towards the poppy display at St Luke’s Chapel and the world record attempt for the Devon County Show of knitted bunting!

St Luke’s Volunteer Gardening Group was established in 2018 with the aim to convert an unused space on the campus into a quiet space for staff and students to interact with green spaces and each other.  A committee was set up and is led by Ruth Gwernan-Jones, and over the year has achieved a huge amount, with turf being installed, a tapestry lawn set up, pathways and raised beds built, installing furniture as well as instigating the use of compost caddies for staff in South Cloisters.  Funding has also been obtained and the Group is grateful to the Alumni Annual Fund and the Research Culture award for their financial support.

New members to these groups are always welcome – no experience necessary.

For further details on any of the above, please contact Sue Whiffin (

ESMI is absolutely delighted to learn that Joanna Thompson Coon and Martin Pitt have been promoted to Professors within the College of Medicine and Health, and pass on our congratulations!

In November, the Evidence Synthesis Team celebrated its 10th birthday – a fantastic accomplishment.  The team, led by Prof Jo Thompson Coon, has undertaken a huge and varied amount of work over the last decade, which can be found in detail here and also wrote an excellent blog reflecting over the achievements during 10 years, culminating in a celebration with friends and cake (this team has probably the best concentration of high quality cake makers anywhere!) – best of luck for the next 10 years!

No – not the female vocal trio from Philadelphia! … but the two PhDs and one Batchelor of Medical Sciences degree, awarded to current or former ESMI staff and students at the university’s summer graduation last week.

At the ceremony in the Great Hall on the 19th of July, we are proud that Sophie Dodman received her BSc, with 1st class honours, in Medical Sciences. Sophie had spent the third year of her four-year degree on a Professional Training Year placement as a researcher in the PenTAG research group, producing health technology assessments for NICE.

This experience has clearly inspired her, as she has landed a great job with Evidera - a consultancy firm which conducts analyses to demonstrate the effectiveness, safety, and value of biopharmaceutical and biotechnology products. We thank Dr Jo Varley Campbell and others in PenTAG who pursued the opportunity to have Sophie join us, and mentored her while she was a member of the team.

At the same ceremony, former ESMI student Thandie Hara was awarded her PhD, which recognises the high quality and originality of her research into the implementation and sustainability of public health programmes (supervised by: Rob AndersonMark PearsonSarah Dean). The core of her research showed how public health programmes can become sustainable in the longer term. But sustainability is not simply long-term implementation; it relies on the consistent presence of five ‘mechanisms of sustainability’ - credibility, simplicity, marketability, contextualisability, and justifiability - which interact with progressing stages of the implementation process.

Thandie’s achievement is all the more admirable because she completed her PhD while bringing up a young family.  Thandie has recently started a job with the University of Oxford as their Senior Regional Knowledge Exchange Officer.

And the third degree, unfortunately awarded on Friday in his absence, was for Chris Cooper’s PhD in the field of information science.  Chris’s PhD was entitled Improving literature searching in systematic reviews: the application of tailored literature searching compared to ‘the conventional approach’ (supervised by Ruth GarsideNicky Britten, and Chris Hyde). Chris was Senior Information Specialist at PenTAG and then ESMI from 2009 to 2017, and much of his PhD research built on innovative searching techniques that he had pioneered on systematic reviews on public health and health technology topics.

We all know that getting a good degree is hard work. They are also in part a reflection of the unstinting support of partners, families and friends. So all of us at ESMI also pass on our congratulations to Alun Gwernan-Jones (you would never guess … the husband of our delightful ESMI and EST colleague Ruth Gwernan-Jones) for gaining his BSc in Medical Imaging on the same day!

We bask in the glory of your achievements, and wish you all well with your exciting careers! Be sure to stay in touch now.

Want to study for a PhD with us?

If you are interested in doing a PhD in any of our fields of research and methods (systematic reviewing, evidence synthesis, evidence-based policy, economic modelling, technology assessment, information science) please contact any of our senior researchers or academics to make an enquiry. Or if you are unsure who to ask, call or e-mail Rob Anderson to discuss your specific research interests and career ambitions.

Congratulations to Dr Oriana Ciani for being awarded the Fulbright Research Scholarship to study at the Yale Medical School in the United States. This will be for 9 months, starting in January 2020.
The Fulbright Scholars Program is one of the most widely recognized and prestigious international exchange programs in the world that grants support for graduate study and research in 140 countries.

A renowned academic will join the University of Exeter to lead PenTAG.

Professor G.J. Melendez-Torres will join from DECIPHer at Cardiff University to lead the Peninsula Technology Assessment Group. A registered nurse with a first degree in health economics and a doctorate in social epidemiology, G.J. joins the University as Professor of Clinical and Social Epidemiology. His research interests are largely related to complex methodological development in health technology assessment (HTA), evidence synthesis and primary research.

Professor Melendez-Torres said: “I am really looking forward to joining PenTAG. Having worked closely with colleagues from ESMI (Evidence Synthesis & Modeling for Health Improvement) in the past, I know that I am joining a vibrant and innovative community and I have already been impressed by how warm and welcoming it is. The current period of expansion for the College of Medicine and Health offers many exciting opportunities for the development of HTA and evidence synthesis in Exeter and I am thrilled to be part of it.’

Beyond HTA, his substantive interests are in the public health aspects of child and adolescent social development and intimate partner violence. Professor Clive Ballard, Dean and Executive Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “We are delighted to welcome G.J. to the College. PenTAG has been an extremely successful group and we are confident that it will grow in strength under his leadership.”


The 25th Cochrane Colloquium was held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre in Scotland in September. The theme of the Colloquium was ‘Cochrane for all – better evidence for better health decisions’, the emphasis being that Cochrane welcomes everyone and recognizes that everything Cochrane does is about and for patients and other health consumers.  Indeed, the 2018 Colloquium was co-designed, co-produced and co-presented with healthcare consumers.

Research from across the Evidence Synthesis Team (EST) and HS&DR Evidence Synthesis Centre was showcased in abstract form, and through short and long oral presentations. Altogether, the research involving ten members of ESMI, and including ongoing and recently finished projects such as PARENTMy NATURERAPMental Health Act and Length of Stay was presented across 3 posters and 9 oral presentations.

Much of the research showcased the value of involving PPI (People and Public Involvement) in review work, from designing search strategies or plain language protocols through to shaping, understanding and/or disseminating review findings, including an inspiring presentation from Dr Erin Walker and Katrina Brooks talking about their involvement with the NIHR funded project ‘Improving the mental health of children and young people with long term conditions’.

Katrina and Erin also recorded a podcast of their experiences of taking part in the project for the Mental Elf. Other presentations centred on new ideas around frameworks for search strategies and documentation of search strategies and search results, as well as novel approaches for synthesising and analysing mixed methods systematic reviews. Abstracts of all presentations are available on the Programme page of the Colloquium website,

If you want to hear more about how the EST members summed up their conference experience, you can read all about it on the EvidSynthTeam blog.

Congratulations to Rob Anderson and Simon Briscoe for their contributions in the newly published definitive guide to using realist research methods.

The new book, Doing Realist Research, includes a chapter on using realist approaches for assessing cost and cost-effectiveness that was written by Rob Anderson, Rebecca Hardwick, Richard Byng and Mark Pearson, and a chapter on scoping and searching to support realist research by  Andrew Booth, Judy Wright and Simon Briscoe .

Rob said: “Since around 2011, researchers in ESMI have applied and extended realist approaches of evidence synthesis to answer policy-relevant questions about health services and public health programmes.  Policy-makers and practitioners understand that in complex areas most interventions are configured and implemented differently, and therefore work differently in different contexts. Or intervention providers and recipients respond to the new resources offered by an intervention in different ways.  Compared with conventional review or research methods, realist approaches can therefore reveal in which contexts particular causal mechanisms are fostered, and therefore which intended outcomes can be more confidently expected”. 

To find out more about realist methods, follow the Realist Hive – an Exeter university hosted blog about using realist methods – or browse the resources of the NIHR HS&DR-funded RAMESES projects which describes best practice approaches to realist evaluation and review. 

A review team based within ESMI, which conducts systematic reviews to directly inform important and urgent aspects of NHS organisation and delivery, has delivered its first review as part of this national long-term contract. The rapid systematic review, which we were only tasked by the HS&DR Programme in January, was to inform the work of the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act.

The final report of our rapid review – conducted in just six weeks – was sent to the Department of Health and Social Care in March. It summarised and synthesised evidence from twenty qualitative studies about different peoples’ experiences of how relatives and carers are involved in decisions and care of people detained under the Act without their agreement.

The 1983 Mental Health Act provides a rigid mechanism for choosing which family member should be formally involved in care and hospital admission decisions of someone suffering acute mental distress. This sometimes creates problems in identifying who should fill this ‘nearest relative’ statutory role, contacting them, and also raises questions about whether they are the best person to be involved in someone’s care or share confidential clinical information with.

Despite amendments to this Act for England and Wales in 2007, and a different approach adopted in Scotland in 2003, there are still widespread calls to modernise the legislation in England & Wales. Our review pulled together various stakeholder perspectives on the perceived challenges and problems of the current legislation in England, plus advantages and disadvantages of adopting similar legislation to Scotland.

Liz Shaw, lead author of the review, said “The team thoroughly enjoyed being part of this review. This fascinating topic meant that we had to familiarise ourselves with some pretty complex legislation, alongside condensing a process which would usually take us about 8 months, into a really short space of time. It was a huge challenge, but very exciting. We relished the opportunity to collate the views of people who have been admitted to hospital and those who support them for a report which will be used to inform the care and support they receive. We are hopeful that our contribution will have a meaningful impact on the lives of people who have been involuntarily detained under the Mental Health Act.”

As well as getting the Final Report to the DHSC on time, we are pleased to share that one of the main researchers on this project, Michael Nunns, became a dad for the first time on the same day!! Congratulations from everyone in ESMI to the whole family.

The registered protocol for the systematic review is on PROSPERO. The report of the rapid systematic review will be appearing in the NIHR Journals Library series Health Services & Delivery Research in due course.

2018 has seen the start of two new projects for the Evidence Synthesis Team within ESMI.

The first to kick off in January was the 12 month RfPB-funded PaReNt project, with Becky Whear as the Principal Investigator and Harriet Hunt as the lead Research Fellow. PARENT stands for PArent-to-PaREnt Support Interventions for Parents of Babies Cared for in a NeonaTal unit. Parents of babies admitted to neonatal units experience an emotional journey for which they are ill-prepared. Feelings of helplessness, fear, sadness, guilt, grief and anger are common, and may persist long after discharge from the unit. These experiences can have negative effects on long-term outcomes. When asked about the background to the project Becky said “Evidence has shown that support from peers with first-hand experience, who are therefore able to empathise with problems and challenges, is beneficial in many settings. However, the contribution of parent-to-parent support within the neonatal context has not been fully explored”. Partners in the PARENT project include representatives from SNUG, Sue Prosser from neonatal unit at the RD&E Hospital, Andrew Collinson from the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust and Kate Boddy from the UEMS PPI team.  Find out more about PARENT.

The second project to have started this year is the 18 month NIHR-funded Caring about Care project. Caring about Care is a series of linked evidence syntheses aiming to identify how best to improve the experience of care for people with dementia and their families in the acute care setting. Jo Thompson Coon, the Principal Investigator, said “we are very excited to be undertaking these reviews. This idea for this work came about through our discussions with network research volunteers from the Alzheimer’s Society who felt that the need to improve the experience in hospital was one of the most important areas needing research – so it’s great that we have been funded to do it“. Ruth Gwernan-Jones and Hannah Jones are the research fellows leading the qualitative and quantitative components of these reviews.


ESMI have launched a series of guest external lectures from world-leading academics and up-and-coming talent in the world of evidence synthesis and modelling for applied health research. The lectures aim to share learning and foster debate about new ideas and methods developments in evidence synthesis and modelling, and build collaborative connections to leading researchers and research groups in the UK and internationally.

On 27th November 2017, the inaugural lecture in the series was given by Dr Dylan Kneale from the Institute of Education, UCL talking about ‘Enhancing the portability of public health intervention review evidence for localised decision making’.

Dylan’s talk focussed on the generalisability of meta-analytic evidence and the types of knowledge claims that can be made from meta-analyses of public health interventions. Reflections of the seminar from Dylan himself can be found on the ESMI evidence synthesis team blog.

The series continues in 2018 with GJ Melendez-Torres from Cardiff University on Wednesday 24th January. GJ will be talking about accounting for diversity within syntheses of interventions in his talk: We can see the forest, but where are the trees? Methods to bridge diversity and meta-analysis’. All are welcome. The seminar will be held in the WK Norman Seminar Room in the Medical School Building, St.Luke’s campus at 10am.

Dr Rebecca Abbott recently attended the 8th International Evidence Based Health Conference in Taormina, Sicily (25th to 28th October, 2017). The theme of the conference was ‘The ecosystem of evidence: connecting generation, synthesis and translation’. Rebecca was invited to give two oral presentations. The first given in the plenary session on Day 1 was entitled ‘Reducing research waste the PenCLAHRC way’ and described how a number of steps within the PenCLAHRC prioritisation process help to reduce research waste. The second presentation, in the parallel session on day 2 was entitled ‘From evidence to practice: reflections on collaborating and co-producing with the Sensory Trust’. This talk, given on behalf of Dr Noreen Orr, reflected on the benefits and experiences of stakeholder engagement that have been gained from the ‘My Nature’ project.

When asked to comment on the conference, Rebecca summed it up very nicely: ‘One of the best conferences I have ever attended: dynamic, engaging, thought-provoking, friendly and set on the an idyllic Italian island…what’s not to love!”. Rebecca reflects further on the lessons learnt at the conference in her blog on the Evidence Synthesis Team blog.

ESMI had a large presence at the recent Global Evidence Summit in Cape Town, South Africa. The Global Evidence Summit was the first time that Cochrane, The Campbell Collaboration, Guidelines-International Network, International Society for Evidence-based Health Care, and Joanna Briggs Institute had joined forces. Over 1400 delegates from 77 countries attended.

ESMI colleagues who attended included Jo Thompson CoonNoreen OrrMorwenna Rogers and Ken Stein from the Evidence Synthesis TeamMichael Nunns and Liz Shaw from the HSDR Evidence Synthesis Centre, and Linda Long from PenTAG and the Exeter Cochrane Cardiac Rehabilitation Reviews Group. They were joined by collaborating colleagues Ruth Garside from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health and Darren Moore from the Graduate School of Education.

Over the five days, ESMI members led and contributed to several methods workshops and presented on various topics including stakeholder engagement, improving mental health for children with long term health conditions, searching for implementation research, patient and public involvement in systematic reviews and health technology assessment.

Fortunately, space in the Summit timetable allowed for a day of sightseeing…and the penguins at Boulders Beach did not disappoint.

To read more about the reflections from the Summit: take a look at the blogs from the Evidence Synthesis Team and the Exeter Cardiac Group.

A team within the ESMI research group in the Medical School is to become one of three research groups commissioned by the National Institute of Health Research HS&DR (Health Services & Delivery Research programme) to conduct syntheses of evidence about the organisation and delivery of healthcare. The work will involve appraising and synthesising research and other evidence relating to the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, patient experience, and implementation of models and initiatives for improving the delivery of healthcare and NHS organisation.

This contract to support the HS&DR programme is worth half a million pounds over three years, and means we join the University of York and the University of Sheffield in hosting one of these nationally significant evidence synthesis centres.

Rob Anderson, Director of ESMI, who will lead the centre’s work, said “This commissioned research stream builds perfectly on the established skills and experience of our research group since 2001. In particular, it complements our existing responsive high quality review work that informs NICE Guidance (health technology assessments by PenTAG) and our NHS- and user-driven systematic reviews conducted by NIHR CLAHRC South West Pensinsula (PenCLAHRC) Evidence Synthesis Team. Together with Jo Thompson-Coon and Chris Cooper, the co-investigators of this programme of work bring over 30 years’ combined experience of conducting and leading responsive and innovative systematic reviews to inform health policy, practice and management.

The core team of systematic reviewers and information specialists will work with relevant academic expertise in health services, policy and management fields (Andi Smart, University of Exeter Business School; Rod Sheaff, Plymouth University School of Law, Criminology and Government). It will also make use of established contacts and experience from working directly with NHS staff and organisations in the region through PenCLAHRC".

For more information on the programme of work of the Exeter HS&DR Evidence Synthesis Centre and the team formed to deliver this work, please see the Centre’s web page.

ESMI would like to congratulate Jo Thompson-Coon, Director of the Evidence Synthesis Team, on her recent promotion to Associate Professor. Jo is one of the long standing members of ESMI (formerly PenTAG). She has seen a lot of changes in that time. In light of her promotion, we asked Jo a few questions about her work and how things have changed in the land of evidence synthesis.

1. How have systematic reviews changed in the time you’ve been at UoE and how have you changed in the time you’ve been at UoE?

I’ve been at UoE for 16 years - when I first started working here we had a rota for using the internet! If you tried to go online when it wasn’t your turn everyone could tell because the modem made that funny squealing sound and the other person got thrown off… bad news if they were in the middle of a search.

How have SRs changed? They are much more commonplace now – everyone (thinks they) know(s) what a SR is… difficult to compare what I did when I first came to PenTAG with what I do now as everything ‘TAG’ is done so well with systems/processes that were ahead of the game but things like the fact that registering the protocol for a SR is now standard practice is very different to what people did 10 years ago.

When I joined PenTAG I had one 9 month old daughter and I was enjoying the challenge of breastfeeding whilst working 50 miles from home. I now have an 10 year old and an 13 year old, life is still very busy and full of challenges but they are a little different! I am much more adept at multi-tasking than 12 years ago in fact I’m not sure I even knew what it was back then

2. What advice would you give to a researcher keen on developing her career in systematic review work?

Not sure I have a sensible answer for this one…it wasn’t something I planned but I am very happy to be doing it.  Maybe – come and speak to me or my team and find out more about what we do.

3. Archie Cochrane, of Cochrane Collaboration fame, was always going on about how there is a pressing need to learn from the research that exists through summarising it, so why is it that despite this, many systematic reviews conclude with a version of ‘more research is needed’…?

Because so much original research is still not conducted appropriately

4. If you could change one thing about the research world to make it better for systematic reviewers, what would you do?

Enforce journal editors to ensure that the methods sections of trial papers actually describe what the researchers did and the results section actually reports everything they measured.

5. If evidence synthesis is a magic bus, where is it heading?

On a big adventure with lots of cake and maybe a cocktail or two.

6. There’s been talk recently about automatic data extraction from academic research by computers for evidence synthesis. Good idea or bad?

Two years ago I think I may have said ‘bad idea – when has replacing people with machines ever ended well? Just look at the self-service tills in supermarkets… ‘ But times are a-changing and the ways in which we do systematic reviews need to change too. Machine learning will cut down on many of the boring review tasks leaving more time for thought and interpretation.

7. What piece(s) of work that you’ve done whilst here have been the most satisfying and why?

I find all my work satisfying mostly because of the wonderful people that I am fortunate to work with.  For more of what I and the Evidence Synthesis Team do follow us on @evidsynthteam or read our blog


In October, Jo Thompson Coon from the Evidence Synthesis Team, together with Harriet Hunt and Chris Hyde from the Exeter Test Group and Linda Long from PenTAG travelled to Seoul in South Korea for the 24th Cochrane Colloquium. A combination of oral presentations and posters showcased some of the ongoing research within these ESMI research groups.

Cochrane Colloquia are annual flagship events, bringing together Cochrane contributors from around the world to discuss, develop and promote Cochrane, and help shape its future. Since 1993, Cochrane has been conducting annual conferences (Colloquia) in order to allow contributors, partners, researchers, and newcomers to meet, network, exchange ideas, and collaborate, with the purpose of advancing Cochrane's work in evidence-informed health care.

In Seoul, over 1500 participants, including leading international names in various branches of health care and research synthesis, met, debated, disseminated and learnt how to dance Gangnam style (well not everyone!).

To read more about what some of the researchers got out of the meeting, you can read the ‘lessons learnt’ on the Evidence Synthesis Team blog.

This has been a bumper couple of months for success within ESMI.

Travelling to the US and Canada, are Alison Bethel and Ilianna Lourida who both won travel awards. Alison was awarded £5000 from the University of Exeter Internationalisation Fund to visit the University of Michigan Medical Library, Ann Arbor and learn about flipped classroom teaching for systematic reviews. See more about the course.  Ilianna was awarded a travel fellowship to attend and deliver an oral presentation about the DEIRDRE project (A review of dissemination and implementation research in dementia) at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto in July.

Moving up are Thandie Hara, Becky Hardwick and Harriet Hunt who were all successful in their MPhil/PhD upgrades, and presented beautifully. Becky was also awarded the ‘Best Oral Presentation’ at this year’s UEMS Annual Research Event in Torquay.

Also moving up are Alison BethelSimon BriscoeDarren Moore and Becca Abbott. All have recently been promoted.

Congratulations to everyone!

The TEDx Exeter theme for 2016 'Dreams to Reality' proved to be just that. What an amazing set of speakers! We had the honour of hosting a live streaming event in South Cloisters and invited people from around the community to drop in and watch an inspiring talk or two. Having sold out up at main campus, the airy alternative offered an informal and friendly atmosphere. A big thank you to TEDx Exeter and the fab IT team who set up the live stream event for us all to enjoy. Looking forward to next year, already!

If you didn't get chance to drop in on the day or would like to watch again, the talks are now uploaded and ready to watch

And to coincide with the TEDx Exeter screening, we held the 2016 Cake-Off on the same day. There were 16 entries and 194 judgements made by staff and students. Standards were once again very high, and much cake needed to be eaten before overall judgements could be made. First place was awarded to Jo Thompson Coon for Dark and Stormy; 2nd Place went to Nicola Huxley for Not quite technicolour dream cake and 3rd Place to Jeff Lambert for Worth a Million.

So a big thank you to everyone that participated in the Cake-Off too, we raised over £120 for Parklife Heavitree, a local community organisation who are bringing the life back into green spaces in our part of the City.

Photos courtesy of Pam Gurney.

Alison Bethel (an Information Specialist from the Information Specialist Team) and Becca Abbott (a Systematic Reviewer from the Evidence Synthesis Team) have recently returned from a highly informative and engaging week in Ann Arbor and New York visiting and chatting with a whole range of informationists and health science librarians from across US and Canada. The trip was made possible by Alison securing funding from the University of Exeter Medical School Internationalisation Fund to help initiate collaboration with colleagues at the Taubman Health Science Library at the University of Michigan (UMTHSL) in Ann Arbor.

One of the specified aims of the collaboration was to observe and participate in their ‘Systematic Review: Opportunities for Librarians’ workshop. The UMTHSL course is taught using a flipped classroom model, which involves 9 hours of online training prior to the face-to-face two day workshop. Alison and Becca, who have both been involved in the development and delivery of the comparable ‘Searching and Beyond’ course here within ESMI, were interested in whether aspects of the UMTHSL model could be employed in the UEMS course. After seeing aspects of the course in action, they are keen to initiate several changes to their course. They are also hopeful of continuing collaboration with the informationists from UMTHSL, and are working towards facilitating their attendance at a Searching and Beyond course here in Exeter and a future joint presentation/paper related to systematic review training.

En route to Ann Arbor, Alison and Becca made arrangements to stop over in New York to visit the rare book collection at the New York Academy of Medicine and speak with the Grey Literature Report people at the same place.

You can find out more about their thoughts and learnings on the workshop and library visits, on their blog.

In March 2016 we were joined by Patrick Bossuyt, a world renowned expert in medical test evaluation. Patrick is Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the Amsterdam Medical Centre of the University of Amsterdam where he has been responsible for innumerable test evaluations - particularly randomised controlled trials, resulting in over 600 peer reviewed publications. His lectures on the urgent need to extend the evaluation of tests to include measuring their consequences to patients (“consequentialism”) are legendary and he is the lead for the STARD guidelines, the internationally recognised standard for reporting studies of test accuracy, which has STARD 2015 Reporting Diagnostic Accuracy.

Patrick joined us as a Visiting International Academic Fellow from 7th to 18th March 2016, and met with a large number of our colleagues to discuss ideas on new tests and their evaluation. Patrick shared a great deal of his time and expertise, and it was a fabulous opportunity which many of us benefitted from. As Professor Stuart Logan, Head of the Institute of Health Research has put it, “The world listens to what Patrick Bossuyt says about new tests. If Exeter wants to get its new medical tests into practice it needs to listen to what Patrick has to say.”

Whist he was here, Patrick gave a talk titled “The evaluation of medical tests – from results to consequences” which is available to view online.


PenCHORD (Peninsula Collaboration for Health Operational Research and Development) is both a workstream within the ESMI research group and a part of the Peninsula CLAHRC.  The PenCHORD team use advanced quantitative techniques to model healthcare services and operations to help healthcare professionals, commissioners and patients make informed decisions about change in the NHS.

Over the last couple of months, PenCHORD has been engaging in a lot of exciting activity.

1) PenCHORD have been awarded a grant of £336,000 to extend their successful regional neonatal model to analyse the national capacity and demand for neonatal care in England.  The project, Neonet (funded by the NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research Programme), will analyse the trade-off between unit throughput and parent travel distance from reconfiguration of services, and analyse the impact on the costs per infant. 

2) PenCHORD showcased their work to potential collaborators based in Cornwall.  Attendees learnt more about the type of projects that PenCHORD can offer and how the projects can directly help their organisation.  PenCHORD also ran their highly successful training programme (“Modelling in Health and Social Care”) that is free-of-charge to those working in and around the NHS in the South West and which shows people how to develop simple but effective models in Excel.  Future dates for this training programme will be offered in March 2016.

3) PenCHORD have extended the range of their training programme to include the new training day “Problem Structuring Methods”.  The pilot module, which was ran in November 2015, was incredibly well received and future dates for this training day will be offered on 28 January 2016 and 02 February 2016.

4) PenCHORD has recently delivered its 12th Seminar, Showcase and Workshop event to illustrate the ways in which Operational Research can help to inform decision making in the NHS.  The next SSW event is to be held on 04 February 2016. 

5) Board members of trusts have responded very enthusiastically to the launch of the Health Service Modelling Associates programme set up by PenCHORD.  This programme is open to current NHS trust employees who will be released for one day a week to work on a modelling project of particular relevance to their trust with the support of a PenCHORD mentor.

6) PenCHORD are in high demand for their geographical modelling work.  Their analysis on organisation of stroke and heart attack services in the South West was presented to over 100 clinicians and commissioners.  Also PenCHORD have been commissioned to help the Welsh NHS to evaluate number and locations of acute stroke services in Wales.  Mike Allen and Kerry Pearn are continuing to take this work forward.

7) Researchers at PenCHORD are passionate about their work and enjoy discussing and showcasing their research at international conferences.  Sebastian Rachuba presented the radiographer led discharge project and Martin Pitt presented the visual methods for representing patients pathways work at the ORAHS conference in Montreal, Canada.  The diagnostic pathway for chest pain patients in A&E project was presented by Andy Salmon at the YoungOR 19 conference in Birmingham and by Martin Pitt at the INFORMS HEALTHCARE Conference in Nashville, USA.  Dan Chalk presented the polypharmacy project and Sean Manzi presented the behaviour in waste management systems project at the EURO conference in Glasgow.

8) Exciting news just in.  PenCHORD is very happy to have appointed a new member to their growing team, Emma Villeneuve.  Emma will start in 2016 and PenCHORD look forward to this valuable addition to the team.

Details of all future PenCHORD events can be found on their events page.

A team from PenCLAHRC and the University of Exeter in collaboration with clinicians from Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Institute of Child Health at University College London have been awarded a grant of £285,000 to carry out a study which aims to increase our understanding of how to improve the mental health of children and young people with long term physical health conditions.  The project, funded by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment programme, will critically appraise all the relevant published research studies to assess how well treatments aimed at improving the mental health of children and young people with long term conditions work.  In addition, strands of quantitative and qualitative evidence will be synthesised through the refinement and continued development of a conceptual framework.  The project team will work with children and young people with first-hand experience of long-term conditions and mental health issues, and their families, as well as the health care practitioners that work with them to ensure that the work is meaningful and relevant.

We are very excited to be working on this worthwhile project and are currently looking for two researchers to join the team (vacancy details).

ESMI’s technology assessment team PenTAG (Peninsula Technology Assessment Group) has new a director. Associate Professor in Health Economics Martin Hoyle has recently been appointed as the new director of PenTAG, taking the baton from Professor of Public Health and Clinical Epidemiology Chris Hyde. Professor Chris Hyde was the PenTAG director since 2009 and is very supportive of Martin in his new role.  PenTAG is a very successful research group and secured a £3,500,000 tender to continue undertaking technology assessment reviews for the Heath Technology Assessment programme (HTA) for the next six years (2016-2021). The HTA Programme is the largest of National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) programmes. This is an exciting time for Martin and PenTAG!

Both Martin and Chris are really positive about PenTAG’s future:

Chris: “PenTAG is a very important research unit within the University of Exeter, generating 3-4 major publications each year, attracting multi-million pound funding and consistently making national and international impact. It is critical that it is well led. Martin has built on his enormous expertise in economic modelling to develop the additional skills which will make him a great Director of PenTAG ensuring its continuing success. As outgoing Director he will continue to have my wholehearted support.”

Martin: “Under Chris Hyde’s directorship, PenTAG has further established a reputation for conducting high quality health technology assessments.  Our research directly affects the lives of thousands of people in England and Wales as it strongly informs recommendations from national decision-making organisations such as NICE and the National Screening Committee.  I intend to build on this high impact research.”

A big thank you to Chris Hyde for his successful 6 years in the role, and congratulations to Martin Hoyle on becoming the new PenTAG director!

ESMI researchers Darren MooreJo Thompson-CoonKen SteinMorwenna Rogers and Rebecca Whear were part of a research team whose work was published in the journal Health Technology Assessment on 1st July 2015.

The team conducted a series of quantitative and qualitative reviews regarding the use of non-pharmacological interventions for ADHD in schools, finding some evidence for the effectiveness of interventions that have been used. They also highlighted a range of factors that can affect how well interventions work, meaning future research ought to focus on not only what works, but for whom and in which contexts.

For more information on their findings, please see their recent mental health seminar presentation, their poster and read their feature in University News.

ESMI celebrates four PhD successes in 2015. Mary Bond was awarded her PhD in The Psychological Consequences of False-Positive Screening Mammograms in July 2015. Marcela Haasova was awarded her PhD in The Acute Effects of Physical Activity in Smoking in January 2015. Jo Varley-Campbell was awarded her PhD in The Influence of Energy Expenditure, Sex, and Eating Behaviours on Energy Intake and Appetite in Young Adolescents in July 2015. Bogdan Grigore successfully defended his viva in Methods to Elicit Probability Distributions from Experts: A Review of Reported Practice in Health Technology Assessment in June 2015. Bogdan is expected to graduate in January 2016.

Some of them shared with us what this academic achievement means to them.

Marcela: PhD training can be an arduous and lonely journey at times, but the reward is definitely worth it. I have been lucky to find a new home in PenTAG in 2012 and with the support from my line manger Louise Crathorne,  my two inspiring supervisors, Dr Fiona Warren and Prof Adrian Taylor, and some hard work on my part,  I was able to celebrate my doctorate with my friends and family in January this year. Which was simply wonderful.

Jo: Completing my PhD is one of my most proudest achievements and being able to graduate alongside my husband made the day even more special. Looking back at the number of children recruited and studies performed, I have no idea how I managed to do it all, but I am so pleased that I did! 

Bogdan: My PhD project advanced me in three different ways. First, it allowed me to learn and find answers to questions I have always had. Second, there is the trio of my great supervisors, Dr Jaime PetersProf Ken Stein and Prof Chris Hyde, who has always helped me to reflect on my work. And finally, engaging with peers and disseminating the answers I found gave me a great sense of accomplishment.

Many congratulations to MaryMarcelaJo and Bogdan!

Congratulations to ESMI researcher Linda Long who was interviewed by the BBC about her collaboration with an artist and composer to create a unique bacterial soundscape installation at The Eden Project. The installation is part of a new permanent biomedical  exhibition called “ Invisible You. The Human Microbiome”,  a collection of art work, installations and interactive pieces that aim to explore our relationship with the bacteria that colonise our bodies. 

Speaking about the installation, Linda said “This is an exciting  transdisciplinary project that brings together science, art and music  to engage the public  with  bacteria and molecular biology in a really new and inspiring way”.

The new permanent exhibition at The Eden Project opened on the 22nd of May 2015.

Along with three other UEMS professors, ESMI researcher Professor Rod Taylor has been recognised by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) as being among the most outstanding health researchers in the UK.  Professor Rod Taylor works in the field of cardiac secondary prevention and rehabilitation and received the accolade for the first time. 

Professor Rod Taylor said he was “delighted and privileged” to receive the award and join the NIHR College of Senior Investigators for the next five years. He said: “This award is great recognition for Exeter and the South West and my collaborators both nationally and internationally in the field of secondary cardiac prevention and rehabilitation research. Our programme of research promises a continuing pipeline of impactful evidence for people with heart disease and their carers and for health service providers and policy makers.”

Associate Professor Anderson, Director of ESMI, said: “This recognises the significant contributions the Rod has made through his internationally important primary research and systematic reviews in relation to heart disease and cardiac rehabilitation.  His innovative work with Oriana Ciani on surrogate outcomes in HTA, and in leading and publishing a wide range of Cochrane systematic reviews (with Lindsey Anderson as part of the Cochrane Heart Group), complement our diverse portfolio of applied and methodological evidence synthesis work.”

The NIHR is the research arm of the NHS. Senior Investigators are the NIHR’s pre-eminent researchers and represent the country’s 200 most outstanding leaders of clinical and applied health and social care research. Senior Investigators constitute a network of experts and provide research leadership to the NIHR, promoting clinical and applied research in health and social care.

The 12th annual meeting of HTAi (Health Technology Assessment international) was held in Oslo this year. The topic was "Global efforts in knowledge transfer: HTA to policy and practice".

Thanks to the great hospitality of the Nordic countries, experts, decision-makers and researchers gathered from 15th to 17th of June to discuss ways to improve joint work and cross-borders reuse of knowledge to support evidence-based health policies and practice. 

ESMI was represented at the conference by Dr Oriana Ciani and Professors Rod Taylor and Ken Stein. They delivered two oral sessions and contributed to the panel session around the challenges of HTA for medical devices and the validation of surrogate endpoints. 

Following success in gaining an MRC Newton Fund grant (PI: Prof. Chris Hyde), PenTAG researchers have linked with Fiocruz (the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation) in Brazil, and taken part in the first collaborative workshop at the Fiocruz research campus in Rio de Janeiro.  Fiocruz is the largest institute of public health research in the southern hemisphere, a leading research partner of Brazil’s Ministry of Health, and has been making globally important discoveries about the biology and prevention of infectious diseases since the early 20th century.

From the 11th to the 15th of May 2015, seven PenTAG researchers with expertise in health technology assessment ran an introductory workshop on health technology assessment for clinical and public health researchers at Fiocruz.  In two other meetings during the week, we worked together on a project to develop an assessment of the cost-effectiveness of new diagnostics technologies for liver fibrosis, and new antiviral drugs for treating Hepatitis C, which affects almost one million people in Brazil.

Our trip was extremely successful, and generously hosted by Dr Rodolfo Castro of the Evandro Chagas Institute for Clinical Research (IPEC) and the Center for Technological Development in Health (CDTS).  We look forward to welcoming members of the Fiocruz team to Exeter later in 2015.

Prof Chris Hyde said of this first trip and workshop to initiate the collaboration: “The trip greatly exceeded our expectations on what could be achieved in such a short time; it augurs well for future collaboration on health technology assessments, particularly of new diagnostics in infectious disease”.

Other members of the team who delivered the workshop and participated in the systematic review and model development meetings were: Chris CooperMarcela HaasovaHarriet HuntJo Varley-CampbellRob Anderson, Louise Crathorne (UEMS Health Economics Group) and Mariana Bacelar (BMJ-TAG)

On April 28th, ESMI hosted the inaugural Colossal Cloisters Cake-off Challenge. Colleagues from across the Institute of Health Research were invited to come and say hello to the IHR groups who had moved across from Veysey and get a peek of the newly refurbished South Cloisters wing. Invitations to both bake and judge (‘eat’) cake were issued and enticing prizes offered.

More than 20 cakes made their way to the judging table, with some competitive types (mentioning no names Stuart Logan) offering up two cakes to the challenge! The category of Best Tasting cake was won by Rob Anderson (ESMI Director), Best Looking cake by Jo Varley-Campbell (PenTAG), and the Best judge, managing to sample and vote on 6 cakes, Kerry Pearn (PenCHORD).  Mary Berry would have been proud of all efforts!

An impressive £175 was raised for the Devon Air Ambulance Trust.

A big thank you to everyone who attended and to Jo Thompson CoonRebecca HardwickRebecca Abbott and Morwenna Rogers for organising the successful event.

A mapping review of the literature on UK-focused health and social care databases compiled by the Information Specialist team at ESMI has recently been chosen by the Editor of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) quarterly newsletter as their ‘pick’ of the current literature. The key findings of the review were:

• UK health and social care databases are often overlooked in systematic reviews because little is known about what they contain

• Researchers should be aware of UK health and social care databases and the unique content they offer  

• UK health and social care databases hold content which is not indexed in larger databases, such as Medline and Embase

For full details please see Cooper, C., Rogers, M., Bethel, A., Briscoe, S. & Lowe, J. (2015) A mapping review of the literature on UK-focused health and social care databases. Health Information & Libraries Journal 32: 5–22 DOI: 10.1111/hir.12083

It was a clear and bright day when the first of the researchers from the Veysey Building started to trickle into South Cloisters at St Luke’s campus.  The move was a greatly anticipated adventure, finally bringing together the whole cadre of researchers in the Medical School onto one Campus.  Leading the mass exodus from the riverside was, of course, ESMI, journeying bravely into the unknown. 

Our new home, South Cloisters, is being completely renovated, and we have found ourselves in very fine accommodation on the top two floors, with fantastic views over the quad (see photo) and over the rest of the beautiful cathedral city of Exeter.  It is a great space to work in, a choice selection of café’s and shops just a short walk away in Magdalen Road, and Waitrose (with free coffee or tea), and the police station opposite us.  What more could a health services researcher want?

Hackworthy’s the removals company, did a sterling job of getting everyone’s goods and chattels to the right office space, and apart from a few ‘soft landing’ issues (such as making sure the glass in the men’s toilet cubicles was misted, not clear), it has been a smooth transition.

To mark the occasion, ESMI hosted the first Colossal Cloisters Cake off and invited colleagues from across the campus to join them for Cake and Conversation on the 3rd Floor, South Cloisters.  Winners and photos next week!

The inaugural conference, organised and attended by people with Lynch syndrome and their family and friends, was held to gather together experts in the field to explain what Lynch syndrome is, how it is diagnosed and how it is managed, as well as to update on current and planned research. Crucially it was also a chance for people affected by Lynch syndrome to ask questions that they cannot ask their local clinicians, because of limited awareness of the disease.

Lynch syndrome is an inherited cancer syndrome which greatly increases the risk of bowel cancer, as well as cancers of the womb and ovaries for women. Lynch syndrome is inherited in a “dominant” fashion which means that there is a 50:50 chance of passing it from parent to child. Not only are the risks of these cancers increased with Lynch syndrome, but they also occur at an earlier age than expected in the general population.

Genetic testing is available which can diagnose Lynch syndrome, and close relatives can also be tested to see if they carry the genetic mutation. If someone is known to have Lynch syndrome they can receive surveillance for bowel cancer to remove precancerous growths and catch cancer in the earlier stages, and can also be offered surgery to remove the womb and ovaries before cancer develops.

Research by PenTAG (commissioned by the NIHR HTA programme) suggests that offering testing for Lynch syndrome to everyone developing bowel cancer under age 50 would be cost-effective for the NHS, and extending this to people aged under 70 could also be cost-effective [Snowsill T, Huxley N, Hoyle M, et al. A systematic review and economic evaluation of diagnostic strategies for Lynch syndrome. Health Technology Assessment 2014;18(58); DOI: 10.3310/hta18580].

PenTAG researcher, Tristan Snowsill, said of his experience speaking at the inaugural conference: “It has been fantastic to meet the Lynch Syndrome UK trustees and all the other people affected by Lynch syndrome. Their achievement in bringing together experts from across the country is considerable, and I hope they can help us to do more and better research into this condition. They were extremely welcoming and I had a really good time, so I’m already looking forward to our next opportunity to get together.”

Tristan and his colleagues at PenTAG are intending to apply for funding to further research Lynch syndrome and other hereditary cancer syndromes, and are looking for patients and members of the public to help design, conduct and report this research. Please contact Tristan directly at if you are interested.

On a thankfully dry Saturday in March, eight ESMI researchers, plus Murphy the dog, took part in the Delicious Dart Trail as a tiding of magpies to raise money for the charity, CHICKS

Not convinced that the actual event of walking 15 miles from Dartington to Dartmouth in fancy dress was enough, the team embraced the nursery rhyme and fairytale theme by making their own magpie costumes (from the One for Sorrow nursery rhyme), and didn’t even let Murphy escape the fancy dress wearing honour.

The team raised over £500 for CHICKS, a Devon based charity that provide holidays for disadvantaged children.

Did we mention that the event includes snacking on delicious local treats along the way?... so it wasn’t a bad way to do it!  Even so, groans of achy limbs could be heard along the Veysey corridors for the following few days.

Well done to all the magnificent magpies!

Congratulations to Felix Gradinger for being elected as Senator to represent the academic staff of the Medical School.  Here is his quick guide about how the Senate and the University Management Structures work.

'Senate is the senior forum for academic staff to shape academic strategy, as well as scrutinise plans and raise issues of major strategic importance to the University. It meets three times a year and its powers and constitution can be found in the University’s Ordinances.’  In practice, and as far as I can gather, it mainly acts as a what the Vice-Chancellor calls a ‘sounding board’ for himself and his Chief Executive Group members (who chair the meetings). It also works through various committees, and all the proceedings are transparent in minutes and actions on the Senate web pages.

Felix intends to give updates and offer feedback loops for ESMI regularly around scheduled senate meetings (18.03.15, 20.05. 2015 - Joint Senate and Council meeting, 01.07.15), and engage via discussion forums and hopes to do so also at the regular team meetings. Please also feel free to raise any issues directly to Felix on 6124 or

For more information about how Senate and University Management Structures work, please see Felix’s complete quick guide.

ESMIs very own Harriet Hunt was one of the winners of the recent Evidence Live 2015 competition which challenged aspiring PhD candidates and junior doctors to address the following questions in 300 words: “What is the most important intervention/change/idea required to ‘fix’ Evidence-Based Medicine over the next 10 years, and how should it be implemented?”. Harriet won substantially reduced rates to attend the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine’s Evidence Live 2015, which is being hosted at the Oxford University Examination Schools on the 13th-14th April. Her entry is posted below:

Improving the evidence for Evidence-Based Medicine, by Harriet Hunt
How would you feel about a pharmaceutical manufacturer introducing a new drug without clear evaluation – no empirical evidence on benefits and costs to the target population, or implications if that drug is not used? They argue that comprehensive evaluation is too challenging – and besides, everyone knows it’s the right thing to use. It’s logical.

This is how Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM) could be viewed at present. After more than 20 years of teaching and refinement, EBM has its own acronym – yet still struggles to shift from totemic paradigm of medical education to practice standard1. Once trainees have fledged into clinical practice, the tenets of EBM may be a luxury rather than necessity for careworn clinicians.

Several barriers are attributed to this struggle2, yet a fundamental question is overlooked: does failure to consider the evidence always lead to poorer medical outcomes?

A 2011 Cochrane review by Tanya Horsley and colleagues3 offers an insight. The authors found that whilst teaching critical appraisal skills may improve the knowledge of healthcare professionals, there was a complete absence of evidence on whether teaching these skills led to changes in the process of care or changes in patient outcome.

More examples are needed of where failure to consider evidence would lead to poorer outcomes in real world scenarios. Without proof, it is difficult to persuade anyone, let alone sceptical, time-poor practitioners, that increased evidence really does make a difference.

1 Knottnerus, JA & Dinant, GJ (1997) Medicine based evidence, a prerequisite for evidence based medicine. BMJ 1997;315:1109
2 Greenhalgh, T, Howick, J, & Maskrey, N (2014) Evidence based medicine: a movement in crisis? BMJ 2014;348:g3725
3 Horsley T, Hyde C Santesso N, Parkes J, Milne R, Stewart R. Teaching critical appraisal skills in healthcare settings. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 11. Art. No.: CD00127. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001270.pub2

Jo Thompson Coon and Alison Bethel from the Evidence Synthesis Team were recently invited to be part of the Fourth Plymouth Dementia Conference, held at the Plymouth Guildhall on the 6th February.  The theme of the conference was “Dementia: the challenges and inspirational solutions”. Angela Rippon, Ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society and chairperson for the Conference, opened the conference by welcoming everyone, and added many personal reflections and anecdotes throughout the inspiring and motivating day. The overall aim of the day was to showcase both local and national dementia friendly initiatives and share ideas. Jo and Alison used the occasion to trial out dissemination ideas for the team’s recently published systematic reviews around dementia care (Whear 2014Abbott 2013Whear 2014). Using the dementia gardens review as a focus, conference attendees were given the option to vote for their favourite form of dissemination: from on online video (here), the full systematic review, an A4 sized poster and a smaller folding leaflet.  The leaflet scored the most votes, and the team are currently looking at all comments received and working out what this might mean for future dissemination plans!


PenTAG researchers Dr Tom Monks and Oriana Ciani (a PhD student) scooped two of the eight 2013 Exeter Impact Awards, at the glittering ceremony on Tuesday 10 December. Tom was awarded The George Smith regional partnership award for his PenCLAHRC-funded work on:  ‘Optimising emergency stroke treatment to reduce disability in South West England with Dr Martin Pitt, and Prof Ken Stein (University of Exeter);  and Michelle Roe and Dr Martin James (Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital)  ‌Click here for more details.

Oriana was awarded the Outstanding‌ Impact in Health and Wellbeing award for her PhD research on:  ‘Judging the value of healthcare treatments: getting the outcomes right for patients with Dr Ruth GarsideProf Ken Stein, and Prof Rod Taylor (University of Exeter). For Oriana, this follows another recent award from the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research (ISPOR)‌ conference for Best Student Podium Research Presentation on ‘Validation of surrogate endpoints in advanced solid tumours: systematic review of statistical methods, results and implications for policy makers’, in November 2013 .

Many congratulations to Tom and Oriana!

The University of Exeter Forum building played host to 132 delegates who met on July 9th to explore the role of information, and information specialists, in health technology assessments (HTA). The conference attracted a range of delegates from industry, from NICE, from technology assessment groups and other methodological research groups, who travelled to Exeter from around the UK and Europe.

The agenda included discussion led by Rumona Dickson (Liverpool Reviews and Implementation Group), and included talks by PenTAG’s Simon Briscoe on Web-Searching in HTA. Dr Tom Jefferson closed the day with a keynote entitled ‘Hayashi’s problem: The use of regulatory information for research synthesis’.

The conference was organised and chaired by Chris Cooper (Chair of InterTASC ISSG) and Jenny Lowe .

Research prizes seem to be like buses; you wait ages for one, and then three come at once!  This week Rebecca Abbott of the PenCLAHRC Evidence Synthesis Team within PenTAG won a prize in the University’s Images of Research Competition.  The photograph and accompanying description, entitled ‘Can you imagine mealtimes in old age?’ won in the Society and Culture theme, and was actually of another work colleague’s grandfather.  It will go on display and tour with the other winners around the University of Exeter’s campuses.  

And last week, at the SysNet conference (Cardiff University Systematic Reviews Network Conference 2014) in Cardiff, Morwenna Rogers won first Prize and Darren Moore Third Prize for their posters.  Darren’s poster was on ‘The implications of ADHD stigma for non-pharmacological interventions in schools: Findings from a systematic review of qualitative studies’, while Morwenna’s was on ‘The Development of a Search Filter to Identify Literature about Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) in Health Research’.

Many congratulations to Becca, Morwenna and Darren!

Research prizes seem to be like buses; you wait ages for one, and then three come at once!  This week Rebecca Abbott of the PenCLAHRC Evidence Synthesis Team within PenTAG won a prize in the University’s Images of Research Competition.  The photograph and accompanying description, entitled ‘Can you imagine mealtimes in old age?’ won in the Society and Culture theme, and was actually of another work colleague’s grandfather.  It will go on display and tour with the other winners around the University of Exeter’s campuses.  

And last week, at the SysNet conference (Cardiff University Systematic Reviews Network Conference 2014) in Cardiff, Morwenna Rogers won first Prize and Darren Moore Third Prize for their posters.  Darren’s poster was on ‘The implications of ADHD stigma for non-pharmacological interventions in schools: Findings from a systematic review of qualitative studies’, while Morwenna’s was on ‘The Development of a Search Filter to Identify Literature about Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) in Health Research’.

Many congratulations to Becca, Morwenna and Darren!

Rebecca Hardwick, an Associate Research Fellow in PenTAG and PenCLAHRC since 2012, is one of 31 women – one for every day in March – who have been chosen by the University of Exeter to celebrate International Women’s Day 2014.  The day, 8th March, celebrates the social, political and economic achievements of women while focusing world attention on areas requiring further action.

Read Rebecca’s profile and find out about what has inspired the achievements of her and the 30 other inspirational women featured.  Other academics from the Medical School chosen as inspirational women are Tamsin Ford and Lorna Harries.

Or check out the University events aimed at spreading understanding of gender-related issues, or sharing stories about which women have inspired you.

Attendance at the South West Public Health Science Conference 2014 in Weston-Super-Mare was high, despite the onslaught of poor weather that had disrupted so many homes, roads and railways in the region.

The conference was hosted by Health Education South West in collaboration with DECIPHer (Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health) with an aim to showcase both service and university based public health research and evaluation from across the South West region. Research was presented across 24 parallel sessions, 35 posters and four plenary sessions. Presenters represented a wide range of organisations from Public Health England, local councils (BaNES, North Somerset, Gloucestershire, Swindon Borough, Bristol City and Dorset County), local universities (Exeter, Bristol, UWE and Bath) and Speciality Registrars.

Seven researchers from PenTAG and more from the Child Health group at the University of Exeter attended the conference and presented their work,  including four parallel sessions: Dr Jo Thompson Coon (EST PenCLAHRC): Interventions to reduce inappropriate prescribing of antipsychotic medications to people with dementia living in residential care: a systematic review, Dr Rebecca Abbott (EST PenCLAHRC): Effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in vascular disease: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials Dr Tracey Jones-Hughes (PenTAG): The effectiveness of interventions to reduce arsenic contamination of groundwater in developing countries: a systematic review, and Dr Jenny Lloyd (Child Health): The Healthy Lifestyles Programme (HeLP); evidence of feasibility, acceptability and proof of concept in affecting children’s weight status. There were also several poster presentations from University of Exeter researchers.

The plenary sessions tackled more nationally relevant topics and were the subjects of much tweeting by attendees #SWPHSC14. All in all, it was a great (and free!) conference to present and discuss research as well as network with relevant, academic, clinical and other public health service stakeholders. Looking forward to the SWPHSC 2015 already!

In the second round of awards for the Researcher-led initiative grants, two PenTAG researchers have gained an award to increase research capacity in diagnostic accuracy research. These grants support the development and cascade of personal, professional and career management skills by and for early career researchers across the University of Exeter.

The aim of this project grant, awarded to Harriet Hunt and Zhivko Zhelev, is to increase the research capacity of Medical School researchers interested in diagnostic accuracy research, create a forum to discuss methodological issues and share knowledge and experience, and provide an opportunity for networking, with the ambition of developing ideas for future work in this area. Four seminars on key topics are proposed to meet these aims, and build more links between researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School, and those in other Colleges of the university.

This builds on PenTAG’s success last year in gaining these important awards for developing early career researchers and sharing research capacity in key areas. For more details, please contact the award winners directly.