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What to say about 2017?

While the year has been over-shadowed by momentous, seismic shifts in the shape and direction of the UK – from the realpolitik of Trump to the almost mind-numbing national political fixation with Brexit, whether soft, hard or gloopy, the past twelve months have been speckled with many positive points to draw upon. For me in particular, I continue to be proud and grateful for the individual and team commitments and dedication made by NDPCHS team members to the betterment of healthcare through high quality research and teaching.

There are many successes in 2017, more vividly presented on our excellent website than my prose would do justice to. Lots of patient involvement in research, from ways to avoid pre-eclampsia to better diagnosis of hypertension to the 100th module for Healthtalk.org. Trials of treatment strategies for sore throat and cough, for a novel flu vaccine, on new possible indications for old drugs in renal disease, and simple brief interventions for treating obesity. Lots of diagnostic research from modelling evidence-based care pathways to biomarker thresholds and the utility of simple measures, such as weight. A large growth in digital health studies, from retrospective CPRD research, to patient-level digital studies, to innovative digital platforms like OpenPrescribing.net and OpenTrials. There is so much to summarise but suffice that that all this effort has not just produced high impact papers for REF, critical though this outcome is, but has also impacted on patient care via changes to health policy and guidelines and diffusion to practitioners via traditional avenues and increasingly by social and broadcast media. And it has not just been answers we have provided, but thinking too on important issues facing health and society.

The major efforts to deliver big question science means we have needed to grow our academic teams and support infrastructure, whether to operationalise the 3 NIHR BRC Themes we now lead, the NIHR CLAHRC Oxford (which won an extension), the NIHR SPCR, or success with the new NIHR Community Healthcare MIC, or to respond to the accelerating external governance of our work, led by the CTU and its closer links with the research teams.

This all exemplifies a common commitment and shared expertise evident in our department, which extends to teaching too. The UG medical teaching group had a difficult 2017 with an enforced move to accommodation in the ‘container plot’ at the Churchill – we are split across three sites presently – but continue to gain superb student feedback, in partnership with our fantastic network of teaching general practices. The PGT team, led by CEBM, successfully launched our second and third Master’s programmes (systematic reviews and medical statistics) and were awarded a fourth from 2019–20 on Global Healthcare Leadership – one of only two new Master’s approved for MSD.

At a university level, 2017 was a momentous year, even for a 900-year old institution. The university is undergoing rapid change, at least in comparison to its historic evolution. Bold plans are afoot to enable major capital investments in better space for the academic mission and much more accommodation for students (which should enable growth in student numbers at a rate previously denied to the university). These plans were shadowed by the University seeking a credit rating for the first time (AAA) and floating a successful bond issue for £750 million for 100 years at just over 2.5% interest. In addition, changes to the EJRA have been approved with retirement at 68, which is intended to increase turnover of academic staff and improve our academic pipeline.  

Returning to the department, it has not all been full-sail-ahead – we have lost major stalwarts with the departures of Louise Locock and Tim Lancaster to Chairs elsewhere, and Nicola Small to big challenges in Physics. Our administrative team at NDPCHS are a major asset to us all and help make the place the friendly, supportive and rewarding academic environment it is (recognised by our Athena SWAN Silver renewal – seen with only 1 in 4 such applications in 2017). So we will have challenges in 2018, with space especially, but the senior team are tasked with seeking solutions and are always open to suggestions and feedback. 

But returning to 2017, and in mind of the external issues I started with, I sincerely hope you all get an enjoyable and festive break in the final few days of the year and recharge your enthusiasm and energy for the academic challenges in 2018, mindful that spending time with family and friends and thinking of, or acting for, those less fortunate is part of what helps strengthen our society. The next generation are probably the most infected by the festive season so absorb some of their excitement wherever children are about and return refreshed. Happy Christmas.