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Parkinson’s Academy: Developing services, improving patient care

Posted in Australia/New Zealand,Online First,Special Feature on 5th Jan 2017


Peter Fletcher picDr Peter Fletcher is a Consultant Physician in the Department of Old Age Medicine at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, UK. He specialises in Movement Disorders and shares service delivery with colleagues in Old Age Medicine, Neurology and Psychiatry as well as colleagues from nursing and the allied health professions. He is a founder member and Academic Director of the UK Neurology Academy and has contributed to all its Parkinson’s Academy Masterclasses from their inception in 2002 to date.
Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts to declare
Published online: 30/1/17
Correspondence to:

Since its launch in 2002 the Parkinson’s Academy has delivered innovative expert training for professionals to advance their knowledge, understanding and skills within and often beyond the evidence base.

Led by expert clinicians who work with people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) there is a strong practical focus on clinical practice. The Academy’s interactive, small-group learning has created the standard for Parkinson’s education in the UK. The Parkinson’s Academy has developed a network of professionals focused on not only developing clinical skills but also the organisational and managerial aspects of service delivery.

The Academy was conceived by four clinicians working with the British Geriatrics Society’s Movement Disorder Section (BGS MDS) and was set up with sponsorship, originally from the pharmaceutical industry but now from Parkinson’s UK. We identified colleagues’ hunger for training and particularly that which would take them down a path leading towards becoming PD specialists.

Over 15 years this has expanded into a much broader training programme with two streams of MasterClass courses – Advanced and Foundation. These are tailored to the specific needs of different health professionals, including specialist nurses, specialty registrars, pharmacists, geriatricians, neurologists, old age psychiatrists, physiotherapists, general practitioners (GPs) and others.

In essence the Foundation MasterClasses are attended by less experienced clinicians seeking knowledge, understanding and skills while the Advanced MasterClasses are attended by more experienced senior clinicians often with a service development aspect to their role and so needing to apply their learning at a higher more organisational level.

The Advanced MasterClass provides a unique level of support in offering participants individual support through mentorship from an experienced practitioner, which continues even after the residential course has finished. The mentor acts as a guide not just for personal development but also through the piece of work that each participant must complete after finishing Module 1.

This audit or piece of research that participants undertake back in their own place of work, around service delivery, patient management, drug management, in hospital and/or community care, is integral to the Advanced MasterClass. From these origins the MasterClass audit provided the basis and proof of concept for what through our close links with BGS MDS and Parkinson’s UK would eventually become the UK’s biennial National Parkinson’s Disease Audit.

More recently participants have chosen what to do and how to do it. The breadth and to my eye the utility of the projects have grown enormously and on a broad front as participants have presented projects that follow their own interests. Many have gone on to be presented at the BGS and elsewhere and have led to changes which have made an invaluable impact on service development. Not only does the MasterClass programme equip and enable professionals to influence services, it represents a solid framework, enhanced by networking, for effecting improvements in the care that people with Parkinson’s receive.

A recent standout project is Dr Naomi Fox’s online inpatient drug calculator tool which won her the 2014 MasterClass Project Award. Dr Fox developed an online resource to improve the management of Parkinson’s medication when patients are admitted to hospital for any reason and the drug calculator has now been adopted by Parkinson’s UK (available on UK Parkinson’s Excellence Network website at

The Academy has produced a wealth of expertise and a true network of colleagues throughout the UK who share ideas and mutual support around the challenges of not just Parkinson’s but other movement disorders. Over the last 15 years 30 MasterClasses have been held producing over 1,000 trained specialists in Parkinson’s from all four countries of the UK and a number of international participants from Australia and New Zealand.

We have come a long way since 2002 and things continue to evolve. In addition to the Foundation and Advanced MasterClasses, the Academy has delivered one-off MasterClasses by way of geography (Northern Ireland), timing (publication of new government policies or clinical guidelines) or a specific audience group’s needs (pharma medical directors). It now offers tailored training courses in both the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s and in non-oral therapies, reflecting the need for clinicians to appreciate all aspects of the disease and to understand when non-oral therapies may be suitable and what the referral routes for these are.

In terms of speakers we continue to grow the Faculty, as graduates develop into experts themselves. Although already a member of the Faculty, Louise Ebenezer very successfully became our second Parkinson’s disease nurse specialist speaker in September. More speakers from a wide background reflect the clinical experience of our day jobs and is something we will continue to develop.

Meanwhile the realities of real-world practice has prompted us to introduce a session on ethical dilemmas led by Robin Fackrell.

In 2017 we are running three MasterClasses; one Advanced and two Foundation with the latter aimed at non-final year specialty registrars, Parkinson’s nurses within the first 18 months of post and allied health professionals including pharmacists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and others. The difference between the two MasterClasses is not immediately obvious and possibly seems counter-intuitive. The logic is that in reality one does not need that many leaders of services. More important is that big or small, together, those services serve the whole UK. Since the inception of the Parkinson’s MasterClass in 2002 it has been our observation that there is marked service inequality across the UK. So most urgent is that people with Parkinson’s get to a specialist service. That requires up-skilling and increased awareness among those who are not themselves specialists so that they can refer on appropriately.

As the Parkinson’s Academy grows, we continue to welcome participants from distant shores to our courses in the UK, whose input and diverse experiences bring valuable new perspectives to all of us contemplating how to develop Parkinson’s care. Dr Kate Scott who joined us from New Zealand at the last Advanced MasterClass won the 2016 MasterClass Award for her project on her older adults Parkinson’s service, which resulted in the creation of a Map of Services and triggered far reaching engagement, collaboration and other improvement work.

With so much interest from a number of colleagues in Australia and New Zealand, we are exploring the possibility of bringing the Academy to Australasia with a course custom-made for your local needs. If you would be interested in participating, or perhaps supporting with sponsorship, we would be very glad to hear from you.

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