Two people holding hands

Dr Nikolaos Efstathiou and Dr Nutmeg Hallett from the University of Birmingham’s School of Nursing and Midwifery have been awarded two out of sixteen National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Research for Patient Benefit awards. This prestigious scheme funds research led by allied health professionals specialising in under-represented disciplines, aiming to improve the health or wellbeing of patients and users of the NHS and social care services.

Dr Nikolaos Efstathiou, Associate Professor in Nursing at the University of Birmingham, will lead a study aiming to find ways to improve end-of-life decision-making, care and support for patients and their family in intensive care units (ICUs).

The research team, hosted by Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, will listen to the experiences of people whose loved ones were in ICUs and life-sustaining treatments had to stop. Based on these interviews, researchers will develop a supportive care model aimed at improving end-of-life decision-making, reducing the stress and impact on family members involved and enhancing care in ICUs.

Commenting on the award, Dr Efstathiou said: “It is a great honour to receive this award and undertake research in a relatively neglected area. More than 30,000 patients die in UK ICUs each year and in 65% of cases death follows a decision to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatments. Family members are involved in these decisions and research has shown that this involvement can lead to significant emotional burden and enduring psychological morbidity long after the death of the patient. We hope that with this research we will develop a model of care that will support family members and promote a dignified death for those patients dying in ICUs.”

Dr Nutmeg Hallett, Associate Professor of Mental Health Nursing, will carry out a project exploring how, for whom and in what circumstances post-incident support – also called debriefing – works following restrictive interventions in mental health inpatient settings.

Although the NHS has been trying to reduce restrictive interventions – which may include holding patients down, putting them in a room on their own, or administering medicine they may not want – these are still frequently used in mental health hospital wards, where patients can become very upset or aggressive, or may harm themselves.

This type of intervention can result in physical and emotional harm to patients and staff, and while existing guidelines state that patients and staff should receive support after restrictive interventions, they don’t specify how the debriefing should happen. The research team aims to find out what might work, who it would work for and why, and develop and test an effective debriefing method to benefit patients and staff.

The NIHR Research for Patient Benefit programme funds health, public health and social care research covering a wide range of health service challenges in England and concerning the day-to-day practice of health service and social care staff. This round of awards has been made through the under-represented disciplines and specialisms highlight notice, with £3 million being awarded across the 16 projects.