Mireille Gillings Fellow will innovate to improve lives of frail older people

Over her career, Professor Sallie Lamb has developed a huge respect for the older people she works with on her ground-breaking rehabilitation programmes.

Professor Lamb, Mireille Gillings Professor of Health Innovation, has recently joined Exeter, having worked with a wide range of patients over the years, and has a specialism in frailty.

“I really admire how tenacious so many older people are,” said Sallie, who joins Exeter from Oxford University. “They’re the most vulnerable, yet they’re the ones who try the hardest and complain the least. I think it’s because they already know what losing their mobility feels like. They want to do everything they can to prevent that further and to get better, and they’re willing to fight for it.”

Sallie’s Fellowship at Exeter will help her develop more tools for older people to combat frailty. She has already had huge success in other areas, developing a programme for the common and often debilitating issue of lower back pain that was acknowledged as one of the most successful innovations in the NHS. The programme uses a cognitive behavioural approach to promote appropriate physical activity, which can effectively reduce symptoms over the long term.

“If you’re in a lot of pain, you feel like you can’t move and that you should lie still in bed – but that creates a vicious cycle of making the symptoms worse. With back pain, you really need to move to relive the symptoms. Our programme teaches people how to pace themselves and what type of activities to select, plus what to do if you get a setback.”

As a marker of the success of the programme, thousands of health professionals have so far undertaken a free online learning course, known as a MOOC, to upskill in the programme.

At Exeter, Sallie’s research will focus on frailty, an area where the College of Medicine and Health has existing expertise including Professors Louise Allen and Vicki Goodwin. “It’s a really exciting opportunity,” said Sallie. “There’s a huge opportunity to drive forward innovation and improve the health and wellbeing of older people – and particularly to improve mobility, which is key to a healthy and active life.

“The funding from the Gillings Foundation is really going to accelerate the development of a strong research programme to complement the existing research going on at Exeter. It’s a huge boost and will really accelerate getting this research to a point where it benefits people in need.”

Sallie is known for her rigorous approach to research, previously leading the Oxford Clinical Trials Research Unit, and will contribute to expanding capacity and expertise in clinical trials and medical statistics in the South West. .

A key aspect of the Fellowship appointments is a commitment to promoting women, a passion shared by entrepreneur Mireille Gillings. Sallie said she found herself in a role model position by leading by example, and as mother to 7-year-old Emelia, she is passionate about promoting work-life balance while enabling career progression.

“I’m also really committed to promoting a culture of teamwork between academic and professional services staff,” said Sallie. “People in professional services roles are absolutely critical and it’s important that’s recognised and valued.

“I’m really excited to join so many excellent scholars at Exeter, at such a dynamic time of growth and development.”

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