FNF Scholar undertakes clinical PhD researching the barriers elderly people face in accessing palliative care


Allison Bentley is undertaking a clinical PhD at Lancaster University. She has a background in community nursing and works at St Nicholas Hospice Care in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk as a clinical nurse specialist. She started to study at Warwick University and then worked in palliative care at Addenbrookes Hospital before coming back to the community care setting. She is currently working while finishing the taught element of her PhD where she is studying the research techniques of palliative care methods.

Allison’s study is titled: “What are the barriers for elderly people with life threatening, chronic and progressive disease accessing specialist palliative care services?”

How did you hear about Florence Nightingale Foundation? What was the application process like?
I saw adverts for the Florence Nightingale Foundation in the Royal College of Nursing journal. The application process was very thorough but beneficial as it required the research proposal to be comprehensively explained and justified, removing some of this planning work from future tasks. The process was fairly long but rewarding and I believe it was necessary to ensure we know what to expect.

Why did you choose to conduct your research on this topic?
During my career as a community nurse, I spent a few years as a district nurse and worked with many non-cancer patients who were very ill. I felt that these individuals didn’t receive as many services as the cancer patients and so I developed an interest in non-cancer palliative care. Through my professional role, I have found myself caring for people with three or four long term, debilitative conditions such as dementia, COPD and diabetes. I believe it is important that these patients are offered thorough care and adequate services to help them live a comfortable life and feel this cannot be done by treating all of the conditions they suffer from separately.

What are the aims of your research?
By using semi-structured interviews with geriatricians, community matrons and social workers, I aim to understand and highlight the barriers that elderly patients and healthcare professionals face when accessing and offering palliative care. I have chosen to interview healthcare professionals as they are the individuals who either refer or don’t refer patients. I believe that doing a clinical PhD while working in the sector I am studying will help me to gain a broad understanding of the problems and possible solutions in improving and removing barriers to care. I hope to use my knowledge to teach others and encourage more volunteers and local services to care for the elderly patients who are suffering from non-cancer health problems.

I view my PhD as a fact finding mission and want it to be a base for further research, where I can use my work to help at ground level, in the teaching and care environments. I believe that being able to conduct my research while working clinicaly has huge benefits as I can communicate my findings quickly and effectively with my colleagues while also evaluating the success of any changes that are made. Research is often not officially published until years after it has been conducted, however, my clinical academic role allows me to provide instant, tangible results and evolve my research when necessary.

How has the Florence Nightingale Foundation supported you?
I believe that the Florence Nightingale Foundation has offered me so much more than simply monetary funding. I would describe the support and resources as invaluable in providing links to publish my work and present at conferences. I also received a major confidence boost which was quite overwhelming as many nurses can lack the experience or confidence to start such a comprehensive research project. Networking has also been of great benefit and the Foundation’s encouragement in providing nurses on the ground with feedback from research is invaluable in helping patients live more comfortably on a daily basis.

About the author

NHS Professionals administrator

NHS Professionals manages the temporary staffing needs of around 66 NHS Trusts across England. An integral part of the NHS, it aims to reduce Trusts’ spending on flexible workers without compromising quality, by providing greater transparency of demand and supplying bank staff at the best possible rate. Its bank of more than 40,000 flexible workers comprises general and specialist nurses, doctors, midwives, admin/clerical , allied health professionals, healthcare scientists, support services among other healthcare professionals.

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