I have been working in healthcare research and development, in both the university and private sectors since 1999. Firstly, as a researcher at the University of York and latterly at my own company Arc. In that time I have undertaken research into many different areas of health from teenage pregnancy to cleanliness in primary care, from Walk in clinics to dentistry.
More recently I have been undertaking a development project for the NHS on developing the resilience of carers. Part of this project involves interviewing carers, who we have accessed through support groups and onward through snowballing. Here lies the rub. When approaching support groups, for the first time in my career I am experiencing resistance from group leaders in giving us access to their attendees. After probing, this resistance appears to be linked to concerns about the break up of the NHS and the involvement of private companies in healthcare. This has been stated overtly, an individual did not want to be involved as we were a private company, and more covertly with ourselves being described as a third party, outside the NHS and therefore not allowed access.
I am not arguing that being wary of allowing strangers to talk to groups is necessarily a bad thing, in fact there have been occasions when a little more care should have been taken. Rather what is interesting to me is how a narrative on the break up of NHS services is impacting on what gatekeepers think of as a legitimate person to give access to, and what they do not, and the onward consequences of this for research, development and evaluation.