FEATURE21 February 2011

‘When it comes to the NHS everyone has a story to tell’

Features People

Louise Tamblin has spent two decades working in healthcare MR and is the new head of research at healthcare specialist Strata Research following a spell as group director at Kantar Health.

In our latest Spotlight, she looks at how healthcare research differs from its more commercial counterpart and whether the sector will be affected by the new age of austerity.

NHS reform is in the news right now. You’ve been doing healthcare research for 20 years. What do patients really think of the NHS in your experience?
I’ve always been surprised by how willing patients are to share intimate and personal experiences. And when it comes to the NHS everyone has a story to tell, sometimes great and sometimes distressing. Other than the wish for optimal treatment, the one consistency is the desire to be treated with respect and consideration at the time when people feel at their most vulnerable.

What effect will reduced government spending have on healthcare research?
In the short term Primary Care Trusts will be spending less – I’ve had several conversations with public health directors who say that health promotion campaigns are on hold while they focus on the proposed restructure of the NHS.

Does healthcare research differ much from research in the other sectors you’ve worked in?
I’d say the aims are identical – to develop good products and services, increase sales and gain loyal customers – although the challenges differ. In media you can survey thousands of TV viewers, for example, while in some therapy areas the total universe of hospital consultants may barely reach the hundreds. This limits the choice of research design, sample size and analysis, but perhaps encourages a more resourceful approach when planning research.

How did you first get into market research?
A mix of things – the desire for a fresh challenge, a chance advert in the Guardian, and great directors who were keen to recruit from outside the industry. Like most people I fell into market research – I don’t think many children grow up wanting to be market researchers, which is a shame.

What would you say to someone starting their career in research?
I’d say go for it. As a career it has so much to offer – variety, challenge, genuine enthusiasm, specialisation opportunities and need for both creative and logical thinking.

Looking back, is there anything you would do differently given the chance?
One thing I’ve come to realise is that good market research relies heavily on the set-up – so in my earlier years I would have talked to clients longer and harder at the start of each project, to get a better understanding of the stated objectives, the hidden objectives and the surrounding politics.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years’ time?
2021? Hopefully with my current company and still drawing on psychological theory and techniques to solve business issues. Healthcare research is likely to become increasingly demanding with fresh thinking and new approaches more sought after.

What was the last thing you spent too much cash on?
A Pino Tour tandem last weekend. Don’t ask.