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Swansea clinical psychologist wins award for Outstanding Contribution to Research Delivery

Zoe Fischer pictured from the shoulders up, faces the camera 

Posted on behalf of Health and Care Research Wales.

Dr Zoe Fisher, consultant clinical psychologist from Swansea Bay University Health Board, has won the award for Outstanding Contribution to Research Delivery at the Advancing Healthcare Awards (AHA) Cymru 2021.

The AHA Cymru celebrates the important work of healthcare scientists and allied health professionals (AHPs) across Wales.

Zoe leads a community neurorehabilitation service for people living with acquired brain injury in Swansea Bay University Health Board as well as working at the Health and Wellbeing Academy at Swansea University.

Zoe said: “I’m passionate about improving the long-term wellbeing of people with acquired brain injury, so it’s wonderful for this work to be recognised through this award. A brain injury can disrupt every aspect of a person’s life. All of a sudden, their life can change beyond recognition.

“People experience problems with memory, concentration, fatigue and headaches, to name a few symptoms. People may struggle to do day-to-day tasks or return to work. The catastrophic impact of brain injury can lead to anxiety, depression, social isolation and a loss of a person’s sense of identity and meaning in their life.”

Working in collaboration with Andrew Kemp, a professor of psychology at Swansea University, as well as PhD students, NHS staff and patients, Zoe’s work has led to the development of the GENIAL framework. This new framework identifies important factors that lead to long-term positive health and wellbeing based on the latest scientific evidence.

Using insights from this framework, the team designed new treatments to support the rehabilitation of people affected by brain injury. This included implementing an eight-week wellbeing group course for patients in Swansea Bay and Bridgend.

Zoe said: “In the course, patients explore ways they might grow from, accept and manage difficult emotions, as well as learning ways to increase positive emotions.

“Patients learn about the importance of social connection and connection with nature for wellbeing. When asked, patients who attended the group talked about how they were able to connect with others and share experiences, as well as rediscover a sense of purpose and feel valued again.”

Patients who accessed the community neurorehabilitation service often became socially isolated over time, which could lead to distress and low mood. To combat this, Zoe and the team established joint rehabilitation groups with several organisations to help discharged patients to remain connected to their community.

Through partnerships with the Down to Earth Project and Surfability UK, the team has been able to provide outdoor projects for patients, allowing them to spend time in nature, develop new skills and give back to the community through volunteering opportunities.

Zoe said: “Often we focus on just treating the illness or symptoms rather than looking at treating the wellbeing of the whole person. Our work has focused on supporting people with acquired brain injury but I believe this approach could benefit patients with other chronic conditions as well.”

Dr Nicola Williams, Director of Support & Delivery at Health and Care Research Wales, sat on the judging panel for this award.

She said: “The Award for Outstanding Research Delivery recognises individuals who use exceptional collaboration to deliver research that improves the lives of people in Wales. Zoe showed the highest level of leadership and coordination. We were impressed by her enthusiasm, energy and courage to pursue new opportunities to support and help patients.”

Zoe has been awarded funding for a randomised controlled feasibility trial to demonstrate the impact of the GENIAL framework and its interventions through the Research for Patient and Public Benefit scheme, which will start in 2022.

The winners of the eight AHA Cymru award categories were announced at an online ceremony. The Award for Outstanding Contribution to Research Delivery was sponsored by Health and Care Research Wales.

Find out more about the other AHA Cymru 2021 winners.

Find out more about the work of Zoe and her colleagues at www.genialscience.org.uk

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