We spoke to Pippa Comiskey, a Community Nurse Practitioner at Solent NHS Trust, who has just completed a research scholarship on the provision of oral healthcare in the community for her Masters. The scholarship was with the Florence Nightingale Foundation, sponsored by NHS Professionals.
What made you decide to apply for a scholarship with the Florence Nightingale Foundation?
I was coming to the end of my study and was running out of funding, and saw it as a good opportunity to continue my MSc. I didn’t want to not complete my study, and I thought this was a really good opportunity to finish the research.
Why did you feel that the provision of oral health in a community nursing setting was an important topic to research?
I could have chosen absolutely anything, but when I was out and about in the community it was something that really bothered me. Patient comfort is so important, especially as we deliver a lot of palliative care, and having good oral healthcare is part of that. Personally, once I’ve cleaned my teeth I feel ready for the day. It seems quite simple, but to me it was a big part of overall care.
What were your key findings?
In the community I was quite worried by a lack of oral healthcare that I’d noticed; for example, lots of people with dementia were unable to find their dentures, and without anybody to help them. Originally I thought I’d look into how nurses prioritise oral healthcare but that seemed a bit difficult to actually measure, so it evolved into factors affecting the provision of oral healthcare.
Having done a literature review I picked out five topic areas which appeared throughout most of the literature, but not very much research had been done in the community setting. So I used those five themes and did a questionnaire for nurses within the community setting. I discovered that there is very little training in oral healthcare and not very much knowledge about it. There are not the appropriate resources to deliver it, and it’s not always a high priority compared to other nursing needs.
What were your main recommendations?
Within Southampton we have a really good community dentistry team, but the simple problem is that people don’t know how to access it. Therefore I recommended educating community nurses into the importance of oral healthcare and that it should be seen as a priority; especially as recent research has shown that it can lead to so many other healthcare problems such as cardiac disease. I recommended providing information about how to access resources that lots of patients need. Those were the two main recommendations, but I also acknowledged that patients themselves also need to know the importance of it.
How significant do you think your findings will be to the delivery of oral healthcare?
I think it’s a really good starting point. I originally wanted to ask ‘why is oral health a problem’, but I was told that from a research point of view you have to prove that it is a problem first. I think I can definitely say it’s a significant and proven problem within the area that I work, whether that is as far reaching in other areas I don’t know. So it’s significant that I’ve made a start and identified a problem, but more research needs to be done into why it is a problem and how to improve it.
How has conducting this research impacted on you and your role?
It’s made me look more closely at what I can do. Having done the MSc, I now think more about innovative practice and leadership, and certainly the research module has given me the skills I need to conduct more research in the future if I wanted to.