Pioneering University of Exeter research nominated for higher education “Oscars”

Work by academics at the university’s Law School and Medical School has been shortlisted for the Times Higher Education awards

Two pioneering University of Exeter research projects which will help bring about major reforms to divorce law and improve lives for people with dementia in care homes have been nominated for prestigious awards.

Work by academics at the university’s Law School and Medical School has been shortlisted for the Times Higher Education awards, known as the “Oscars” of higher education.

Professor Liz Trinder’s research in the Law School led directly to government proposed divorce legislation to introduce no-fault divorce, to prevent family conflict and end the blame game. Her work, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, was the first to provide solid evidence that the current divorce laws based on ‘fault’ increases conflict and suffering for separating couples and their children. The divorce legislation has now been delayed by recent events in Parliament, but it is hoped the fact it had cross-party support means it will become law in the near future. The work is nominated for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Research Project of the Year.

Professor Trinder said: “It is an honour that our research has been recognised by the THE. We are very proud to have got as far as we have in bringing about an historic change in the law. Unfortunately the passage of our bill is uncertain, but we are confident it will come back before MPs and peers soon and will eventually be enacted.

“Our work with the legal community and the support of lawyers and politicians such as David Gauke means the principle of no-fault divorce is accepted as something necessary and needed in the UK. It will help to avoid conflict during difficult times for families and the law needs to be changed as soon as possible.”

In the University of Exeter Medical School, work by a team led by Professor Clive Ballard to introduce personalised care and improve social interaction into care homes has been nominated for the STEM Research Project of the Year. Experts trained care home staff to be able to talk to residents about their interests and decisions around their own care. The project, Improving Wellbeing and Health for People with Dementia (WHELD), improved quality of life and reduced agitation and aggression in people with dementia, and mortality rates.

WHELD is the first programme to show benefits to quality of life for people with dementia in care homes. Funded by NIHR and led by the University of Exeter with King’s College London and the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, it involved systematic reviews, stakeholder therapy development groups, two large clinical trials in more than 1,000 participants with dementia across 85 care, and a proactive dissemination programme involving extensive GP training. It has contributed to halving the number of antipsychotic drugs prescribed to people with dementia in the UK.

An economic impact analysis shows WHELD saves money compared to standard care. So far, WHELD has been rolled out to care homes across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and South London and parts of China; and will shortly be available within Devon and Cornwall. The team is working on further UK-wide expansion.

Clive Ballard, professor of age-related diseases at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “I’m delighted to see our WHELD study shortlisted in such prestigious awards. Our research tells us that this programme improves quality of life and reduce agitation and aggression for people with dementia in care homes, some of the most vulnerable in our society. We now need more commitment to rolling this out nationwide to give people the high-quality care they deserve.”

Professor Steve Smith, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Exeter, said: “We are extremely proud of our colleagues, who have been nominated for such prestigious awards. I’m sure the biggest prize for them is to know how much their work will help others, but it’s wonderful to see it recognised in this way, and we wish them luck for the ceremony in November.”

/Public Release. View in full here.