Difficult childhood experiences could make us age prematurely – new research

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Amanda Hughes, University of Bristol and Meena Kumari, University of Essex

We know that comparatively disadvantaged people, even in rich countries, have worse health and shorter life expectancy than others. But what is it exactly about socioeconomic disadvantage and other environmental difficulties that affects our biology? And at what age are we most vulnerable to these effects? Continue reading

Loneliness Across the Life Course – highlighting the need for community-led action

‘Old? What is old? I don’t feel old! Old is nearly dead. Look at me, do I look nearly dead to you?!’

“Skype is a wonderful invention! I was one of those people who said I don’t understand computers, I don’t want to stare at a screen; but it’s marvellous – you feel so connected!”

These are two extracts from ‘ALONELY’, a powerful and emotive set of monologues, developed by community researchers and based on real-life experiences, and one of the research projects tackling the subject of loneliness. Continue reading

Policy & Politics authors call for a moratorium on the use of management consultants in the NHS until effective governance is established

Ian Kirkpatrick, Andrew Sturdy, and Gianluca Veronesi

A recent study on the impact of management consultants on public service efficiency, published in Policy & Politics, prompted this letter from the authors calling for a moratorium on their use until effective governance is established.

Open letter to the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

2nd July, 2018

Dear Mr Hunt,

Re Calling for a moratorium on the use of external management consultants in the NHS until effective governance is established

We recently conducted independent research on the use of external management consultants in the NHS in England. This was subjected to peer review to establish the rigour of its analysis and published in an academic journal (Policy & Politics). Since then, it was mentioned in a parliamentary debate (23rd April, 2018, Hansard Volume 639) and widely reported in the media (21st February, 2018), including in The Times, which has also seen this letter. Continue reading

Setting the priorities for advanced heart failure research

by Dr Rachel Johnson
Clinical Research Fellow
Centre for Academic Primary Care

This week sees the launch of the James Lind Alliance Advanced Heart Failure Priority Setting Partnership Survey to gather research ideas from those living or working with advanced heart failure. Continue reading

Autism not linked to eating fish during pregnancy – large new study

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Caroline Taylor, University of Bristol

Eating fish while you’re pregnant does not increase the chance that your child will be autistic or have autistic traits, our latest study shows. In fact, our study suggests that fish may be beneficial for the development of a healthy nervous system.

A possible link between mercury exposure and autism has been the subject of much debate over the years. In pregnancy, mercury travels in the mother’s blood through the placenta and into the foetus, where it acts as a toxin, affecting the development of the foetal nervous system. Continue reading

Management consultants don’t save the NHS money – new evidence

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The NHS is strapped for cash.
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Andrew Sturdy, University of Bristol

Few topics in the NHS have provoked as much controversy as the use of external management consultants. They provide advice on strategy, organisation and financial planning, and help implement new IT systems and other changes.

While some claim that this brings much needed improvements, critics question their value – particularly at a time when the NHS is strapped for cash. Even Patrick Carter, recently charged with reviewing NHS efficiency, admits that he has “a bugbear with employing management consultants”. Continue reading

Using administrative data for labour market research: getting the balance right

Isabel Stockton, PhD Student, School of Economics, Finance and Management, and panel participant in Research without Borders 2017

Administrative data: it’s one of those phrases that can generate much excitement among economists and some other social scientists, but will never make for scintillating party conversation in any other setting.

However, the possibilities and limits on the use of administrative data for research can have a big impact on the policymaking process and raise tricky ethical questions, so it is important that the conversation is as broad as it can possibly be.

What is administrative data?

Administrative data is collected by the government for a non-research purpose.

For example, as part of my doctoral research I analyse national insurance data on jobs, wages and commuting distances in Germany.

Whenever someone starts or leaves a job, starts to claim unemployment benefits, is assigned to a jobseekers’ training programme or goes on parental or sick leave, this leaves a paper trail.

Economists in particular are very interested in this information: Many of us still subscribe to the traditional credo “Believe what people do, not what they say”. Continue reading

If academics are serious about research impact they need to learn from monitoring, evaluation and learning teams

The impact of academic research, particularly on policy and the private sector, is an increasingly important component of research assessment exercises and funding distribution. However, Duncan Green argues that the way many researchers think about their impact continues to be pretty rudimentary. A lack of understanding of who key decision-makers are, a less-than-agile response to real-world events, and difficulties in attributing credit are all hampering progress in this area. Looking at how impact is measured by aid agencies, there is much academics could learn from their monitoring, evaluation and learning teams.

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Independent verification of the UK’s greenhouse gas report: holding the Government to account

PhD student, Atmospheric Chemistry Research Group, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol

Dan Say, PhD student, Atmospheric Chemistry Research Group, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol

In the early hours of October 15th, negotiators from over 170 countries finalised a legally binding accord, designed to counter the effects of climate change by way of phasing down emissions of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These gases, introduced to replace the ozone-depleting CFCs and HCFCs for which the original Montreal Protocol was drafted, are typically used as coolants in air-conditioning systems. Unfortunately, like their predecessors, they are potent greenhouse gases, whose climate forcing effect per molecule is often many thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide.  Continue reading

How mathematics can fight the abuse of big data algorithms

Prof Alan Champneys,  Professor of Applied Non-linear Mathematics, University of Bristol

Prof Alan Champneys, Professor of Applied Non-linear Mathematics, University of Bristol

“Is maths creating an unfair society?” That seems to be the question on many people’s lips. The rise of big data and the use of algorithms by organisations has left many blaming mathematics for modern society’s ills – refusing people cheap insurance, giving false credit ratings, or even deciding who to interview for a job.

We have been here before. Following the banking crisis of 2008, some argued that it was a mathematical formula that felled Wall Street. The theory goes that the same model that was used to price sub-prime mortgages was used for years to price life assurance policies. Once it was established that dying soon after a loved one (yes, of a broken heart) was a statistical probability, a formula was developed to work out what the increased risk levels were.

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