The £250,000 study, administered by NHS Norfolk, will examine the effectiveness of specialist skills for hospital staff in communicating with recovering stroke patients with aphasia – a communication disorder which affects speaking and understanding.
The project is a collaboration between the university, Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust, NHS Norfolk, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and Cambridge University Hospitals. It will be led by Dr Simon Horton, a lecturer in UEA’s School of Allied Health Professions.
The study – ‘Supported communication to improve participation in rehabilitation (SCIP-R)” – is due to start in February 2011 and will include people with moderate to severe aphasia after a first stroke, with around 50 patients each at the Mulberry Rehabilitation Unit at Norwich Community Hospital and the Lewin Unit, Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Comparisons will be made between outcomes for these patients after staff training in ‘supported communication’ techniques and the research will determine how effective it has been from both the staff and patient perspective.
It is hoped that the research will lead to recommendations for a training protocol for wider implementation. Although speech and language therapists already use supported communication techniques, this will be the first time that these techniques will be tested with a range of hospital staff in a clinical stroke rehabilitation setting.
Dr Horton said: “I am delighted that we are now in a position to implement this study. So much of stroke rehabilitation depends on effective communication. If patients have aphasia their recovery may be slowed if rehabilitation staff are not trained in the necessary skills to communicate effectively with them. There is also potential in this approach to improve the quality of the patient experience.
“A very important group collaborating in the study will be the Norfolk Conversation Partner trainers, a lay group of people who have aphasia and who have been working with us to improve health care professional training and who will help asses staff training and skills in this study. As ‘service users’ their contribution will be significant.”
Norwich resident Linda Watson, a stroke survivor with aphasia, has no hesitation in supporting the research. Having had a stroke eight years ago, she was complimentary of the immediate support she received in hospital but found health providers in the rehabilitation process had not usually had the benefit of training in communication with people with aphasia.
“Communication is vital – having a stroke is traumatic enough as it is and if you can’t make yourself understood it’s like being in your own private prison,” said Mrs Watson, who is a long-time collaborator with the Norfolk Conversation Partner trainers and works part-time for the local authority in support of Adult Learning work.
“You need help from the start and in the rehabilitation process, so I think the study is very positive news.”
Stroke has serious cost implications for UK health and social care. About 33 per cent of first time stroke patients have aphasic communication disorders which can significantly prolong their stay in hospitals and overall recovery time.
This press release outlines independent research commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.