Interview with Angela Topping, Chair of the NHS R&D Forum

11 Dec 2023
Photo of Angela ToppingWe caught up with Angela Topping who recently became the Chair of the NHS R&D Forum. Angela has previously worked with the ECMC network so we asked her about her new role and thoughts on how we can continue to work together.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background before you became the Chair of the NHS R&D Forum?
I was appointed the Chair of the NHS R&D Forum on 1st October 2023. The appointment is for 3 years in the first instance, and I have the equivalent of one day per week for the role. I had previously been an Executive Member of the Forum for 2 years which I thoroughly enjoyed, as it gave me the opportunity to meet and work with colleagues in the health and care system I would not have met otherwise. I have worked at the Academic/NHS interface for most of my career. For the last 6 years, I have been the Head of The Newcastle Joint Research Office (NJRO). The NJRO was formed in 2006 and its main partners are Newcastle University and The Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Working at the interface can be challenging as well as rewarding. Challenging in that there are different measures of success, lack of interoperability of systems and processes and different cultures. Rewarding in that the impact health and care research can have on patients, participants, support networks and society as a whole – and being part of that impact. Prior to becoming Head of the NJRO, I was the Faculty Accountant in the Faculty of Medical Sciences at Newcastle University for 18 years. In this role, I was involved not only in the operational aspects of accountancy, but also as part of a multi-disciplinary team in the design and delivery of major strategic projects in teaching and research including capital investments and new undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.In addition to my work identity, I am mum, wife, sister, daughter, friend, personal trainer, coach, mentor, Mental Health First Aider, and volunteer Samaritan. All my roles define who I am.
What will be the focus of your role?
The focus of my role will be to develop, in collaboration with the Trustees and the wider health and care research community, a vision and ambition for the Forum in a post-pandemic world, develop and embed transparent governance for the Forum and lead on stakeholder management and engagement. I see my role as being a systems convenor, where I have the privilege of connecting people in the complex world of research across silos to facilitate genuine connection and inclusive solutions. Research is truly a team effort. 
What are you most excited about in your new role?
The difference we can make at a systems level in research by the right voices being involved in the right conversations at the right time. Research is complex, interdisciplinary, and multidisciplinary, requiring different knowledge, skills, expertise, and experience to make it happen. Those who are part of NHS R&D Forum community need to be part of the conversations, and I see my role as ensuring the Forum has a seat at the table, and working with the community to ensure the right voices are heard.
What changes or trends to you think will have the biggest impact on R&D in the UK?
There is a great deal of change in the UK R&D landscape at the present time, and I believe there are huge opportunities to embed the positive learning and experience from our collective response during the pandemic so we can deliver the Life Sciences Vision. Whilst the national focus is presently on industry clinical trials and getting back on track, we must ensure there are no negative unintended consequences in our ability to also deliver on academic, non-commercial health and care research. As UK R&D reviews how and where it does research, how it makes it easier to be part of research, how it reduces bureaucracy in research and how it designs and delivers career pathways for ‘Team Research’, it must engage with all parts of the research system to minimise negative unintended consequences. There is evidence of this happening already (for example NCVR and RDN Service Design) and the more we work together on our shared purpose, the easier it will be to adopt different, innovative ways of working in research which ultimately benefits us all.
What are the opportunities for collaboration between the NHS R&D Forum and the ECMC network?
Both the NHS R&D Forum and the ECMC network are UK wide research networks that exist to encourage growth, collaboration, shared learning, training, development, and support of those who are part of ‘Team Research’ in the health and care setting. There are opportunities for us to amplify the voices of our communities at UK R&D level as well as coming together to support those we are here to represent. There is no point reinventing wheels – the more we can do collectively and collaboratively, the better.
Outside of work, what do you do in your down-time to relax?
Self-care is so important, and the best form of self-care for me involves a complete switch in mindset – helped by a good book, being outdoors or both! Having a challenge or a goal associated with it self-care ensures I practice it. 
I am currently ‘bagging’ Wainwrights (214 English peaks in the Lake District) and travel over to The Lakes at least once a month with friends to tick them off the list. I also learnt to scuba dive this year and will be advancing my learning in 2024. There is so much to explore in our seas and oceans and advancing my learning will allow me to go on deeper, more challenging dives around the world. Sometimes however, there is nothing better than curling up on the sofa with a cuppa and getting lost in a good book.