UK Stroke Forum Conference: Day one

Katy Rothwell talks cross-CLAHRC working, caffeine boosts, visual impairment and self-management.

By Katy Rothwell, Programme Manager


Yesterday (2 December 2014) marked the start of the 9th UK Stroke Forum, so it was an early get up and quick trip over (to the ‘wrong side’ of) the Pennines to Harrogate International Conference Centre. Every year since I started with CLAHRC GM I have had the pleasure of attending the conference and have been delighted to see it go from strength to strength year on year, both in terms of its popularity and its relevance to current stroke research and care. It always offers a fantastic opportunity to catch up with so many colleagues working in the area of stroke and a chance to hear more about the latest in stroke research and service delivery.

As in previous years, CLAHRC GM has a stand in the exhibition hall of the conference (H12 if you’re reading this and are at the conference – pay us a visit!), which we are sharing this year with the CLAHRC East Midlands stroke team led by Professor Marion Walker and Dr Rebecca Fisher. Hester Benson, a CLAHRC GM Facilitator, made the journey over to Harrogate on Monday evening and did a super job of getting theHester at stand stand set up, ready for the arrival of all the conference delegates on Tuesday. The conference offers a great opportunity to not only showcase our work, but to get feedback and input from experts in the field and to understand how the work we’re doing relates to other projects/studies currently being undertaken. We’ve already had lots of visitors and interesting conversations and look forward to many more in the days ahead.

After a quick visit to Costa Coffee to recover from a 5am get-up (other coffee brands are available!), taking advantage of the number of staff from across all CLAHRCs attending the UK Stroke Forum, we held our biannual national CLAHRC stroke meeting, chaired by Professor Tom Robinson, UK Stroke Forum Chair and Professor of Stroke Medicine at the University of Leicester. The national CLAHRC stroke group has, over the years, provided an excellent forum for sharing our work, solving problems collectively (in addition to providing a bit of ‘therapy’ in relation to some of our shared frustrations) and providing expert input and critique into each other’s work. This time we took the opportunity to take stock of the stroke-related work currently being undertaken across the 13 NIHR CLAHRCs and discussed how we could best continue to make the most of our shared interests. There are certainly lots of opportunities as we continue to develop our respective programmes of work and lots of ideas about how to take these things forward. So watch this space!

A quick stop for lunch and then it was off to the afternoon’s nursing and rehabilitation training workshops. While aimed principally at clinical staff, they are always really interesting and I find help us to gain insight into the ‘real life ins and outs’ of the stroke services we work with.

Busy sessionThe first session I had selected was ‘visual impairment following stroke’, led by Claire Howard (Stroke Specialist Orthoptist based at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust) and Lauren Hepworth (Research Assistant from the University of Liverpool). After a quick run-down of the context associated with post-stroke visual problems (visual impairment occurs in approximately 60-70% of all strokes), they led a practical session focused on what all staff (not just orthoptists) can do to support people with visual difficulties. We got the chance to practice various techniques such as using line guides and typographs and to take a look at the many free apps that are currently available to support people with a whole host of visual problems. Particularly impressive was the VisionSim app which helps you to understand what it’s like to have a hemianopia, a common visual impairment after stroke.

For the next session I had selected ‘supporting self-management: top tips and latest research’ with Professor Fiona Jones and Jessica Styles and it turned out to be a great choice: one the best sessions I have attended yet at the UKSF. Both Fiona and Jess talked openly about their experiences of self-management and the need to ensure that, while we may all have the best intentions in the world, we should ensure that we do not foster dependence when stroke survivors are in our care, but should rather ensure that we empower and support them to build the skills and behaviour they need to get on and live their lives. Jess and Fiona provided great real-life examples of times they had challenged their own beliefs and perceptions of ‘success’ as stroke professionals, and forced themselves to focus on the things that were important to the stroke survivor themselves. Examples, including Jess’s previous penchant for ensuring that all patients in her care had a perfect ‘side-parting’ (even if this meant doing their hair for them rather than supporting them to do it themselves), kept things lively and entertaining.

In the short time we’ve been here we’ve already bumped into a number of researchers and members of the various stroke teams from across Greater Manchester, so will hopefully catch up with them over the coming days. If things continue to go as on the first day, we look set to be in for a good few days to come.