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School of Applied Social Sciences


Mrs Ethna Parker, RN(LD), Dip N, BSc (HONS), MSc, MA

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Contact Mrs Ethna Parker (email at


Ethna qualified as a Registered Nurse (LD) in March 1995. In those heady days when there were lots of jobs around for newly qualified nurses, she decided to work in Hartlepool as an Assistant Home Manager in a community nursing home. Although the staff were exceptionally devoted to people living in the home, through no fault of theirs, the service was not a good one. So, Ethna worked with the local Community Learning Disability Team in Hartlepool to improve the service and begin the process of re-provisioning, so that residents could live closer to their families and friends. From there, Ethna moved to Northallerton where she worked as Home Manager in a community home supporting adults with a dual diagnosis of learning disabilities and mental health problems. Ethna's next position was working as a Development Officer in Teesside on a resettlement project. Although, the word 'resettlement' might jar people's sensitivities, the project was really about bringing people with learning disabilities and complex needs back home, so that they could live closer to their family and friends.

After approximately three years, Iceland (the country, not the shop) beckoned and Ethna moved there with her lovely husband - well she could hardly leave him home alone in England - and their two children and a BSc in Nursing. Iceland was wonderful. Five volcanoes, one of which erupted about eight weeks after they arrived, ringed the family home. One of the volcanoes - Eyjafjallajokull, has since become quite famous for disrupting the travel plans of the entire world. Something Icelanders were so proud off they coined the now famous (well, in Iceland anyway) joke, 'Mr Brown, we don't have much cash, but we have lots of ash'. Ethna proudly boasts she knew the volcano long before anyone outside of Iceland knew how to pronounce Eyjafjallajokull.

After the volcano, and inbetween supporting nursing home staff, residents and guests during the biggest earthquake to hit Iceland in recent history - a respectable 6.7 on the Richter scale, Ethna also found gainful employment as a learning disability therapist in a primary school and as the Head of Special Education in a pre-school.

In 2005, the family headed back to England where, after a brief sojourn in Australia to work on her MSc in Nursing, Ethna took up employment with Durham University as a Research Associate. During this time, Ethna nurtured the irrational dream of completing a doctorate and to this end developed a research proposal, which looked at evaluating a dementia service. She was interested in understanding how the new Dementia Strategy was affecting local service provision and what people affected by dementia thought about their dementia service. After completing an MA in Social Research Methods, that dream came to pass and the research is now at the data analysis phase.

PhD studies

Using evaluation to uncover ways to compose, substantiate, and make real; knowledge about people with dementia.

The purpose of my PhD research is to evaluate the impact of a range of memory services for people with dementia provided by an integrated Community Mental Health Team for Older People team (CMHT) within an NHS Trust. In line with recommendations listed within the new Dementia Strategy, the Trust is in the process of re-providing services for older people with dementia. Given the importance of beginning programme evaluation at the inception of a new service, this study offers a rare and exciting opportunity to capture the work of the CMHT team as it is changing and to explore what it means to the many people involved in and affected by its transformation.

Data collection tools for the study include in-depth interviews with older people with dementia, their families and caregivers and staff from the CMHT, participant observation of team meetings, analysis of key documents, research diaries (research journal entries for advisory group members and daily activity diaries for interviewees) and a comprehensive literature review. Older people with dementia are members of an advisory group who play an important role in the on-going development and management of the study. Advisory group members are currently involved in disseminating information about the research and will shortly be involved with checking the study's findings, evaluating the research, disseminating the findings locally and nationally and identifying new topics suitable for future research. Advisory group members will also co-host a series of seminars so that they can share their research experiences, develop new skills and gather ideas on the best way to take particular issues forward.

Data will be analysed narratively and thematically. This study is currently at the data analysis stage.

Research interests

Developing innovative methodologies
Participative research
Qualitative case study
User-focused research
Ethical challenges in research

Recent and forthcoming conferences and seminars

September 2011: Presentation for SPIRE at Durham University, Stockton Campus with members of my research advisory group.

July 2011: Keynote speaker at the AGM of Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust at Middlesborough Football Stadium. Presentation given on aspects of dementia.

April 2011: British Sociological Association Annual Conference. Paper on PhD thesis presented within the medical sociology stream.

November 2010: Presentation given at SPIRE (Support and Partnership for Ideas, Research and Empowerment) to staff from Tees, Esk and Wear Valley Foundation NHS Trust and Staff and students from Durham University on methodological and ethical aspects of the thesis.

November 2010: INVOLVE ‘Public involvement in research: innovation and impact’. Nottingham. Poster presentation given to a diverse audience of service users, professionals and academics outlining the progress in the PhD study to date.

November 2010: Poster presentation of my research at the Wolfson Centre fellows networking seminar at Durham University.

June 2010: Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, Mental Health Services for Older People: ‘Celebrating our success’. I was invited to hold two 45-minute workshops at this day-long conference.

May 2010: EUROQUAL ‘International Perspectives on Qualitative Research in the Social Sciences’. London. Research paper presented on the methodology employed in the PhD research together with a range of ethical considerations when researching with older people with dementia.

February 2010: PGR seminar at Durham University. I facilitated a lively discussion on the complexities of maintaining personhood, dignity and consent during research with older people with dementia.

Awards, prizes and scholarships

Jan/Feb 2011: Associate of the Higher Education Authority (pending).

Dec 2010: Durham University Learning & Teaching Award.

Sept 2008: Won the Stirling Prize for best student poster at the British Society of Gerontology Annual Conference.

Oct 2007: Awarded a 4-year MA/PhD scholarship with the ESRC.

Jan 2005: Awarded the prestigious position of ‘Visiting Scholar' working and studying with the late Professor Wolf Wolfensberger at Syracuse University, New York State, USA.

Research Groups

School of Applied Social Sciences

  • Policy, Professions and Communities

Teaching Areas

  • Sessional Lecturer on MA of Social Work

    (30 hours/year.)

Selected Publications

Conference papers

  • Parker, Ethna. (2010), Tales of the unexpected involving older carers as co-researchers, in Peace, Sheila. & Hughes, Jonathan. eds, Reflecting on user-involvement and participatory research Co-production, Participation or What? Critical Perspectives on Participatory Research Involving Older People. London, Centre for Policy on Ageing and Centre for Ageing and Biographical Studies, The Open University, London, 39-61.

Journal papers: professional

  • Parker, Ethna. & Hamill, Conal. (2011). Up close and personal: A qualitative study exploring the lived experience of older carers. Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Research and Practice 8(1): 15-29.

Reports: technical

  • Barnes, Di., Devanney, Carol., Parker, Ethna. & Wistow, Richard. (2009). A profile of children’s health services, child and adolescent mental health services and maternity services in England 2007/8. School of Applied Social Sciences. Durham, Belong Creative.
  • Barnes, Di., Parker, Ethna., Wistow, Richard., Dean, Richard. & Claire Thomson (2007). A profile of Child Health, Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Maternity Services in England 2007. School of Applied Social Sciences. Durham, Belong Creative.
  • Barnes, Di., Appleby, Claire. & Parker, Ethna. (2006). A profile of Children's Health and Maternity Services in England 2006. School of Applied Social Sciences. Durham, Hill Print Media.

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