Food allergy is a common condition that often exists alongside other allergic diseases with prevalence increasing globally (Loh and Tang, 2018).
Untreated or poorly treated allergic disease has physical and psychological implications for children and their families and places a significant economic burden on healthcare services (Diwaker et al., 2017).
Anne McDonnell is a Nurse Specialist in Children’s Allergy based at the Great North Children’s Hospital and has a specific area of interest in the emotional and mental health needs of parents/carers of children and young people with food allergies.
Anne explains: “Parents have a critical role in protecting and promoting the health of children and young people with long term and complex illness.
“I’m particularly interested in understanding and addressing parents’ needs as these are central to both the child and parents’ wellbeing which in turn have an impact on children’s outcomes.”
Anne says that further research is needed to better understand how best to support parents of children with food allergy and she has been successfully awarded a HEE/NIHR ICA Pre-doctoral Clinical and Practitioner Academic Fellowship (PCAF) which will provide the support she needs to explore this area further.
Increasing research impact whilst strengthening academic links
A key priority for our NMAHPs Strategy is to increase research opportunities and impact whilst strengthening our academic links.
We do this in Newcastle by fostering innovative clinical academic careers and attracting external funding and national fellowships through our unique mentorship approach and collaborative working.
The highly competitive and prestigious fellowship was awarded by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NIHR) and is funded by NHS England (formerly Health Education England (HEE) through the Integrated Clinical Academic (ICA) Training Scheme.
The fellowship is being hosted by the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust working in close partnership with the Centre for Children and Young People’s Heath Research (CYPHR), Nottingham University.
Dr Linda Tinkler, Trust lead for NMAHPs Research explains: ““By breaking down geographical boundaries we are starting to see the emergence of multiple opportunities nationwide for the Trust as well as making sure that each individual is in the best position to achieve success and develop impactful research as they are actively encouraged to seek out the best and most appropriate experts to support them regardless of where they are.
“This partnership with Nottingham is an excellent example of such collaborative working and it has been an absolute pleasure to work with Jane and Joseph and the team at Nottingham University so far. We look forward to seeing similar alliances come to fruition in the coming months.”
Supporting parents to improve outcomes children and young people
Anne is currently in the first year of her two-year Fellowship. She says: “For many children with long term, complex conditions, parents have a critical role in protecting and promoting health as well as providing continuity of care. They are the key conduits for messaging from healthcare professionals and so understanding and addressing the needs of parents is central to improving children’s outcomes.”
Anne adds “When reflecting on my clinical practice I became aware that many parents display heightened levels of anxiety which they attribute to ‘uncertainties’, or ‘not knowing’, associated with their child’s diagnosis, disease trajectory, and developmental transitions.
“Contemporary literature identifies uncertainty as a promising target for psychological interventions within this parent population (Steiner et al, 2019; Roberts et al., 2021). My research area of interest is the impact of uncertainty on the psychological well-being in parents of children with food allergy.
“I hope that having a better understanding of this will enable development of early interventions delivered by members of the multidisciplinary team, including Nurse Specialists. to support psychological wellbeing in this parent group and, in turn, improve the outcomes for their children.”
This theme is supported by the NHS Long-Term Plan that highlights the value of new roles, interdisciplinary credentialing, and workforce flexibility to address wide-ranging needs of children with long-term conditions (NHS England, 2019).
Of her fellowship Professor Annette Hand, Professor of Nursing and Clinical Academic working jointly between the Newcastle Hospitals and Northumbria University says “Anne has demonstrated true resilience and commitment whilst developing her research, working to address feedback received from the previous round, developing new, strong collaborative supervisory relationships with a nationally renowned centre of excellence, essential to her research aspirations.
“She actively pursues research and improvement opportunities, influencing care delivered to children, young people, and their families. Her particular interest: the impact of long-term conditions on emotional and mental health needs, aligns closely to numerous elements of Newcastle Hospitals’ strategy including a focus on prevention and population health and our commitment to pioneering health innovation and research.”
Anne’s fellowship is supported by a wide range of Trust-led, regional and national collaborations.
“I feel very fortunate to have been awarded a PCAF and am grateful to my supervisors, Professor Jane Coad and Dr Joseph Manning (Centre for Children and Young People’s Health Research, Nottingham University) mentor Dr Linda Tinkler and colleagues within the Children’s Allergy Team who have provided support, guidance and encouragement during the application process and continue to support me throughout this PCAF journey.”
Professor Jane Coad, Anne’s Director of Studies, said ‘We are delighted to partner with Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and to support Anne in the journey of her prestigious, competitively awarded PCAF.
“This is an important PCAF – for Anne personally, for the contribution to research knowledge in the specialism of Children and Young People’s Nursing and for the health outcomes of children and young people with food allergies and their families.”
Anne adds ”I have also received, and continue to receive, support through the Trust and regional NMAHP research communities and hope to extend this support to colleagues setting out on similar journey.”
Helga Charters, Associate Director of Nursing for Children and Young People at the Great North Children’s Hospital said: “I am delighted that Anne has been awarded this Fellowship, she is a very experienced children’s nurse with many differing skills and abilities.
“I know she will embrace this opportunity with passion and dedication in order to research an extremely important topic around the psychological status of parents of CYP with allergy, the outcome of which I am sure will relate to other specialities. I congratulate her and wish her well.”
Andy Fletcher, Deputy Directorate Manager for the Great North Children’s Hospital (GNCH) added: “We know that patient outcomes are improved through leading the way in health innovation and research activity. Essential to creating a productive research environment is supporting all staff at every level to be encouraged and get involved with research.
“We’re delighted to be able to support Anne in her endeavours, knowing this will be to the benefit of our children and families right across the region.”
Anne is a member of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI) Psychology Working Group that promotes the psychological care of patients with allergies and their families through development of resources, guidelines and education and training.
This group brings together health care professionals, including clinical psychologists, with an interest in the psychosocial impact of food allergy. The group is led by Dr Rebecca Knibb, Associate Professor in Health Psychology, Aston University in collaboration with the BSACI Psychology Working Group and Dr Lauren Mawn, Clinical Psychologist, Paediatric Multi-specialism and Paediatric Renal Services at the Newcastle Hospitals. They will inform the development of both research questions to ensure they are grounded in psychological models of uncertainty and relevant to this parent population.
Anne is also liaising with Allergy UK and the Anaphylaxis Campaign to explore collective experience of narratives among parents contacting them for advice and support. Anne says “These collaborations are central to my proposed research plan and development of my clinical academic career and important for taking forward potential research questions in the future.”
When asked why she feels research in healthcare is so important Anne says: “Research is critical to the development and delivery of evidence based, high quality care and ensuring that we, as a health care organisation, achieve optimal outcomes for those entrusted to our care.
“I hope that, in sharing my journey, I can inform, inspire and support colleagues considering a clinical academic career in addition to actively contributing to a culture that values research and acknowledges its potential to change practice.”
Pre-doctoral Clinical and Practitioner Academic Fellowship (PCAF)
The PCAF scheme supports nurses, midwives and allied health professionals (NMAHPs) wishing to develop a career combining research with clinical practice.
PCAF provides salaried time and funding for personalised programmes of academic training that help awardees to acquire the skills and experience needed to submit a competitive application for doctoral level research training enabling research ideas to become ‘real live’ research projects.
You can find out more about PCAF and other NIHR Integrated Clinical and Practitioner Academic Programmes on the NIHR website and also by contacting the Newcastle Hospital’s NMAHP Research team.