Understanding presentations and admissions to hospital towards the end of life for people with frailty

ESRC Grand Union Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) collaborative doctoral studentship with Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust


The School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Languages (WELS) at The Open University is awarding a collaborative doctoral studentship, in partnership with Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Building on existing local retrospective data about hospital emergency department presentations and admissions for patients with frailty within the last year of life, this doctoral research will use an ethnographic approach to explore patient pathways to/from hospital and experiences of care during these times. The research will be based within Worthing Hospital and findings from this research will be used to inform clinical service improvements.

The overall project will involve an ethnographic approach focusing on one patient group (patients with frailty presenting at the emergency department who could be in their last year of life) within one hospital (Worthing). Data from Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust suggest that over 50% of patients over 75 years old with a high frailty score have three or more hospital admissions in their last year of life, often presenting through the emergency department. Such admissions can result in lengthy hospital stays and 64% of this patient population die during a hospital admission.

Within the first year, it is expected that the doctoral candidate will familiarise themselves with existing literature about hospital admissions and existing retrospective data and insights into patterns of presentations and admissions to help them develop clear research questions. The second phase of the doctoral research will involve original data collection, with the intention of focusing on patients with a high frailty score who have presented to the emergency department and their experiences of care. Methods could involve interviewing patients, and where appropriate others (for example carers/family, care home, and/or hospital staff) about their care, analysing their patient notes and observing their care whilst in hospital. Data analysis will be informed by the use of social theory. For research ethics, the project will require HREC (Health Research Ethics Committee), and possibly CAG (Confidentiality Advisory Group) approvals, in addition to university and local hospital approvals. Further information can be found on the project specification document.

The project partner, Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is invested in using ethnographic research to better understand and improve their services. The doctoral candidate will have access to the Trust’s research support and encouraged to be part of their scholar and knowledge exchange networks.

The PhD studentship will be funded by the ESRC Grand Union DTP for three to four years (or part-time equivalent) from October 2020. The award length will be determined by the DTP Studentships Panel, depending on prior research training. The student will be based in the School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care in WELS at The Open University. They will be supervised by a team of academics and clinicians led by Dr Erica Borgstrom from the Open University.

Information about ESRC studentships at The Open University and eligibility can be found on the DTP’s Studentships and Eligibility pages. This studentship is open to candidates who meet ESRC residency requirements for a full award (covering fees and a stipend for living costs).

How to apply

To apply for the studentship you must submit:

Applications should be sent to WELS-Student-Enquiries@open.ac.uk by 17.00 on Wednesday 4th March 2020. It is expected that interviews will take place on Wednesday 11th March 2020.

The GUDTP studentships are part of a three-university partnership, and there are additional steps to the application process following the interview, we will provide full guidance and support to through the process.  

Queries about the research project and collaboration between The Open University and Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust should be directed to erica.borgstrom@open.ac.uk . Queries about ESRC studentships or the application process should be directed to philippa.waterhouse@open.ac.uk

Applicants can download further details and information on the project specifics here