Dr Gemma McKenna

Dr Gemma McKenna

Health Services Management Centre
Assistant Professor

Contact details

School of Social Policy
HSMC, Park House
University of Birmingham
Edgbaston, Birmingham
B15 2RT, United Kingdom

Dr Gemma McKenna is an Assistant Professor at the Health Services Management Centre (HSMC) working with the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) funded BRACE Rapid Evaluation Centre. Gemma’s areas of research include, children and young people’s mental health, the evaluation and development of new models of integrated care in the UK, and the role of learning networks and communities of practice to bring change in clinical practice. Her methodological approaches focus on co-production and supporting vulnerable groups to take part in research. Gemma is also the lead tutor for the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson MSc Healthcare Leadership programme at HSMC, and tutor on the MSc Health Care and Systems Leadership, and the Senior Leadership Award programmes respectively.


  • PhD in Homelessness Social Enterprises, Middlesex University 2013
  • MA in International Development and Social Policy, University of Manchester 2009
  • BA (Hons) in International Business Studies, University of Portsmouth 2004


Gemma has extensive experience of working in the third and public sectors, focusing on housing, homelessness and public health. With a background in critical and comparative approaches to social policy, she specialises in NHS urgent and emergency care, and primary care, with a focus on methods to support research with vulnerable groups. Gemma has also been a board member of Health Services Research UK since 2017 https://hsruk.org/.

Prior to her recent academic posts at the University of Southampton, Gemma held research and policy positions in UK Parliament, Think Tanks, and European lobby organisations respectively. Working in research roles for Government and Shadow Ministers, as well as previous work with vulnerable groups, she uses these institutional and front-line experiences to identify practical policy-based solutions to public policy issues.

Gemma is passionate about ensuring peoples’ voices are heard and included in research design, outputs and policy development. She is a keen advocate of ‘citizens panels’, which she has used in NIHR (National Institute for Health Research) funded programmes to ensure public and patient voices are central to research projects and outputs. 

Other activities


McKenna, G. (2023). Building inclusive learning environments for postgraduate students with specific learning difficulties (SpLDs) across higher education: a case study approach. Education in Practice. 4(2). University of Birmingham: Complete journal interior @15.12.23-clean_headingsMH +SL clean.pdf (birmingham.ac.uk).

 Sidhu, M, Saunders, C. L. Davies, McKenna, G, Wu, F. Litchfield, I. Olumogba, F. Sussex, J. (2023). Vertical integration of general practices with acute hospitals in England: rapid impact evaluation. Health and Social Care Delivery Research, (11(17):1-114. https://www.journalslibrary.nihr.ac.uk/hta/PRWQ4012#/abstract.

Ellins, J and colleagues. (2023). National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).Early evaluation of the children’s and young people’s mental health trailblazer programme: a rapid mixed-methods study, 2021-2023. 

McKenna, G. Rogers, A. Walker, S. Pope, C. (2020). The influence of personal communities in understanding avoidable emergency department attendance: qualitative study. BMC Health Services Research (20), 887. 

Turnbull, J. Pope, C. Prichard, J. McKenna, G. & Rogers, A. (2019). A conceptual model of urgent care sense-making and help-seeking: a qualitative interview study of urgent care users in England. BMC Health Services Research, 19 (481).

Turnbull, J. McKenna, G. Prichard, J. Rogers, A. Crouch, R, Lennon, A. May, C. Pope, C. (2019). Sense-making strategies and help-seeking behaviours associated with urgent care services: a mixed-methods study. National Institute for Health Research, Health Services and Delivery Research No 7. 26.

Pope, C. McKenna, G. Turnbull, J. Prichard, J. & Rogers, A. (2019). Navigating and making sense of urgent and emergency care processes. Health Expectations 22 (3), 435-443.

McKenna, G and Edwards, L. (2016). Giving Social Action a Voice: Reframing Communication as Social Action. Culture and Communities Network + University of Leeds 

McKenna, G. (2015). The Feel Happy Fix - 50 Fixes for Mental Health: It's Time You Got It! Fixers UK. http://www.fixers.org.uk/UserFiles/Files/p_yXYaBR.pdf 

McKenna, G. (2015). Young People Fixing Eating Disorders: A Cultural Shift is Required. Fixers UK. http://www.fixers.org.uk/feel-happy-fix/feel-happy-eating-fix/what-young-people-think.php 

McKenna, G. (2013). Tackling the Labour Market Exclusion of Homeless People: The Role of Social Enterprise. Middlesex, UK. http://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/12471/ 


Gemma McKenna is a Fellow in the Health Services Management Centre, and specialises in child and adolescent mental health, public access and usage of urgent and emergency care services, with particular focus on patient centred care and vulnerable groups. She has worked with the Department of Health, the Cabinet Office, Department for Education, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the European Commission to advise on the future of health services and small business development.  As a chosen Commissioning Partner (through UK charity Fixers) for Government Task Force on Adolescent Mental Health her recent contributions include evidence for ‘Future in Mind’ Department of Health Guidance on the future of young people’s mental health and with The British Youth Council around young people’s mental health organised by the House of Commons Youth Select Committee. As well as for the Education Committee on the future of careers guidance for young people.  Her work with young people with eating disorders has contributed to Parliamentary questions and informed debates around the improvement of community based services to support young people earlier and reduce the need for in-patient care.

Policy experience

  • Written evidence submitted to the House of Lords Public Services Committee's inquiry: The transition from education to employment for young disabled people.
  • Written evidence provided to Labour Party Policy Forum on ‘Making Public Services Work’ using Children and Young People's Mental Health: Trailblazer programme evaluation.