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The purpose and role of research for the health and social care sector

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Research is an intellectual investigation to get a greater knowledge or understanding of events, behaviours and theories. Research is very active and systematic process of inquiry aimed at revising, discovering and interpreting facts and also for law establishment and theories.

Many organisations have research as an essential tool, though it is exceptional in the health and social care industry. Research in health and social care is for:

* Demographic. Prior to planning the delivery of services. Establishing population patterns and statistics.

* Epidemiology. Exploring patterns of disease.

* Quality assurance. Feedback from service user about service.

* Hypothesis. Exploring theories.

* Knowledge. To extend understanding of theories

* Reviewing and monitoring changes in practice.

When health and social care practitioners are planning a new service they need to do research which focuses on the demographic data such as: population size, age, gender etc. This is so the practitioners can predict and plan for the future.

Epidemiology investigates the cause, prevalence and spread of disease. Therefore the feedback from this research is very important and it is to help develop strategies to prevent and treat diseases. An example of this research is the United Kingdom Childhood Cancer study which started in 1990 and published early findings in 2000. The above shows how important research is for the health and social care industry.

Obtaining feedback on the services is also important this is to use research strategies to find out how effective the service is and if it meets quality standards. This is so the practitioners can be given feedback on their service so they can improve their standards of care.

Hypothesis is an idea or theory that can be proved or rejected by research. Statements that are made can be investigated to provide evidence that either supports the hypothesis or rejects it. So statements can be made statistics if appropriate. For example elderly people who live alone are lonely. This hypothesis will be researched and the outcome will either be approved or rejected as it is not true.

Extending and improving our knowledge. This is very important in health and social care as it develops practitioner’s knowledge and alters to practitioner’s behaviour. For example research linking lung cancer to a variety of medical conditions such as a life style factor smoking. This can help people to understand smoking is unhealthy and causes serious long term illnesses.

Reviewing and monitoring changes in practice. In our world today everything is changing. Technology is rapidly changing and with this health and social care practitioners have to evolve with it. Reviewing and monitoring allows practitioners to monitor if they are actually achieving what is attended. For example Sure Start has a lot of programmes for mothers and toddlers and they want to also provide activities for fathers and toddlers, as they think fathers are not attending because they assume its only mothers who attend these with their siblings. So they introduce the programme set for fathers and toddlers, they will have to monitor the numbers attending and this will come to the conclusion of how successful it will become.

When a researcher identifies a research area and decided on a research question, he/she must then work out the best method of conducting the research. In order to discover information about the society, they’re a wide range of research techniques social scientists have developed.

Information researcher’s use can be divided into primary and secondary sources.

Primary sources are data collected by the researcher first hand. Information that hasn’t already been collected, the researcher actually goes out and engages in the research.

Secondary sources are data that has already been collected. Researchers don’t collect the data themselves but the information is still rich. The data may contain information that was not collected for research purposes such as statistics in books, newspapers, magazines, TV and other media reports. Secondary sources are quick and cheap to use and also allows one to go back in time. Although your not able to check how accurate they are, how objective (unbiased they are), the purpose for which they were collected. Through this raises the issue of validity and reliability of data.

There are also different forms of data.

Quantitative data appears as numerical or statistic data, usually short in form. For example YES/NO answers, tick boxes, graph, charts and tables.

Qualitative data is large in form. It may be used to comment on something, express your feelings towards something.

Florence Nightingale was the first to research patient care. Margaret Alexander and Jenny Hunt look at her followers. “For we who nurse, our nursing is a thing which, unless in it we are making progress every year, every month, every week, take my word for it we are going back.” (Alexander and Hunt 1996)

These words were penned over a century ago by possibly the very first nurse researcher, Florence Nightingale. Her meticulous statistics and detailed observations of nursing care and its affect on her patients, the soldiers of the Crimean War, represent the beginning of a systematic, scientific building up of knowledge about nursing.

It was almost a century before any similar systematic nursing research was undertaken, and even longer before the relevance of research to nursing practice was recognized.

The 1972 Briggs report was the watershed. Throughout, the need for a sound research base for nursing and midwifery practice was clear in such statements as “nursing should become a research-based profession”. Most practicing nurses simply did not know what this meant as the nursing curriculum at that point made no reference to research and virtually no nursing research existed. It also said “research-mindedness should be fostered during pre-registration education”, but no nurse educators had the appropriate preparation to do this.

“Research should begin in the ward itself or at field level in the community” was another statement. Previously, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, what research did exist was about nurses, their attrition rates, their appropriate roles, predictors of success or failure as recruitment strategies and other matters of interest to researchers from other disciplines who conducted these studies. It was not about nursing practice.

The comment, “Too little research is at present carried out by nurses and midwives themselves”, was not surprising because only a tiny proportion of nurses had the academic preparation to fit them to conduct research.

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