Visiting Researcher Reflections: Professor Richard Holt

Posted on 23.11.2023

Professor Richard Holt has just completed his Visiting Professership on ‘Preventing and Managing Diabetes in People with Severe Mental Illness’ at Steno Diabetes Center Sjælland and Psychiatry West, Slagelse with a grant from Danish Diabetes Academy (DDA) (now Danish Diabetes and Endocrine Academy).

We have asked Professor Richard Holt to reflect on his time as a DDA-funded visiting researcher.

What are the most important findings of your research project so far?

The analysis of the clinical outcomes of the FUSION clinic in Slagelse, which provides a joint service for people with diabetes and severe mental illness, has been fascinating. This demonstrates that working across disciplines can make significant improvements to the clinical outcomes of people with co-morbidities.

How is your research project relevant to the public?

People with coexisting severe mental illness (SMI) and type 2 diabetes have a shorter life expectancy and poorer diabetes outcomes than those without SMI. This is partly explained by the separate treatment of diabetes and mental illness, which often occurs in parallel silos in many healthcare systems. The FUSION clinic provides combined psychiatric and diabetes care delivered by both diabetes and mental healthcare professionals. Our work has shown that this unique model of care improves diabetes and psychiatry care and should improve the lives of those living with both conditions.

What is the biggest difference between doing research in Denmark and the country you work in?

Diabetes research is well funded in Denmark and the Steno Diabetes Centers provide a model of collaborative working across the country. The excellent health records in Denmark also make epidemiological research easier to conduct. There is a welcome sense of common purpose about clinical diabetes research in Denmark. Another big difference is the Danish culture of maintaining a healthy but productive work-life balance!

What have you gained as a visiting researcher?

I thoroughly enjoyed each of my three visits to Denmark and learned much about the Danish health system and current research and clinical initiatives around diabetes and severe mental illness. I have made valuable research collaborations with the Steno Center Sjælland and Psychiatry West that are continuing beyond the end of the professorship through a new project. Overall, the professorship has been a catalyst to further research initiatives in this area and I would like to thank the Danish Diabetes Academy for giving me this opportunity.

What was a highlight in your time as a DDA-funded researcher?

We held a highly successful 1-day conference at Vilcon Slagelse on 24 May 2022, hosted by the Steno Diabetes Center Sjælland and Psychiatry West. The conference brought together diabetes and psychiatry clinicians and researchers as well as primary care professionals and was the culmination of the work undertaken during the professorship. The agenda offered practical advice to those managing people with co-morbid diabetes and severe mental illness while provoking discussions about unmet research needs in this area.

Beyond work, I spent many wonderful evenings enjoying the Danish hospitality of my hosts!

Why should other international senior researchers apply for a DDEA Visiting Researcher Grant?

Denmark is a great place to undertake any aspect of diabetes research. It is well-funded and the organisation of the health system and its records makes it ideal for epidemiological research. Experiencing a new culture and health system was a wonderful opportunity. You will make many new friends with whom to share your passion for research and I promise you will not regret it!

What is next for you?

Back to work in the UK but I will continue to work with my new friends and colleagues in Denmark pursuing the important topic of improving the physical health of people with severe mental illness.

Professor Richard Holt’s closest collaborators have been Lise Tarnow and Sidse Arnfred and the research has been co-funded by the University of Southampton.

We wish Professor Richard Holt all the best with his future research.

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