Ms Debra Westlake

Ms Debra Westlake

PenARC Research Fellow

Peninsula Medical School (Faculty of Health: Medicine, Dentistry and Human Sciences)


Research Fellow, NIHR SW Peninsula Applied Research Collaboration (PenARC) 


Qualifications: BA (Hons) Speech Pathology and Therapy, Manchester, UK ; MA (Latin American Studies) Chicago, USA.

I am primarily a qualitative researcher, with a specific interest in ethnography and its application to mixed methods studies.I work in applied health service research that seeks to make research findings accessible to patients and practitioners and inform practice. 

I joined Plymouth University in May, 2014 to work on the ethnographic component of the Avoidable Acute Admissions Study. While with PenARC I have also completed a qualitative evaluation of a third sector organisation’s project, which provides a phone link service to socially isolated groups within the seafaring community and an evaluation of Integrated Personal Commissioning across the South West. I was an NHS England Evaluator for this initiative. 

My interests are in people’s and practitioners’ views and experiences of health services and the co-production of research to develop services. I am currently working on a synthesis of evaluations of complex interventions aimed to develop person centred and coordinated care for people with multiple long-term conditions (Lloyd et al., 2017). I am also developing a bid for funding to develop a do-produced community assets based intervention for refugees.

Before coming to Plymouth, I worked for the Department of General Practice, University of Liverpool, on a qualitative study of GP attitudes to completing benefit claim forms, and for the Health and Community Care Research Unit (HaCCRU) at the University of Liverpool, on a mixed methods project that examined the impact of health policy on family management of health. I was also employed by The Children’s Society to design and carry out a study of community child health needs, commissioned by purchasers and providers of local health services. 

I initially qualified as a Speech and Language therapist, working in the health, education and voluntary sectors. I am the co-founder of a project in Peru and a UK registered charity (Westnell UK in partnership with Sembrando Juntos, Peru ) that provides preschool education and community development for families in shanty towns of Lima. Working internationally has allowed me to learn about the joys and challenges of applying practice across cultures and sensitised me to local variation in implementation. My understanding of the role of the community in informing health and parenting practices in families has been key to this work.

Research interests

Qualitative methods, ethnography, child and family health, emergency care, international community development

Key publications are highlighted

Lloyd H, Pearson M, Sheaff WR, Asthana S, Wheat H, Sugavanam T, Britten N, Valderas J, Bainbridge M 2017 'Collaborative action for person-centred coordinated care (P3C): an approach to support the development of a comprehensive system-wide solution to fragmented care' Health Research Policy and Systems , DOI PEARL
Pinkney J, Rance S, Benger J, Brant H, Joel-Edgar S, Swancutt D, Westlake D, Pearson M, Thomas D 2016 'How can frontline expertise and new models of care best contribute to safely reducing avoidable acute admissions? A mixed-methods study of four acute hospitals' Health Services Delivery Research 4, (3) 1-1 Publisher Site , DOI PEARL
Hiscock J, Byrne P, Peters S, Westlake D & Gabbay M 2009 'Complexity in simple tasks: a qualitative analysis of GPs’ completion of long-term incapacity forms' Primary Health Care Research & Development 10, (03) 254-254 , DOI PEARL
Hiscock J, Hodgson P, Peters S, Westlake D & Gabbay M 2005 'UK general practitioner behaviour and attitudes in the provision of medical evidence for long-term sickness benefit' EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH 15, 137-137 Author Site PEARL
Westlake D & Pearson M 1997 'Child protection and health promotion: Whose responsibility?' Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 19, (2) 139-158 , DOI PEARL