Meet the West Yorkshire children's doctor working to tackle health inequalities and improve outcomes for patients with spina bifida
“I spent a lot of time going in and out of hospital seeing the doctors and their care. I was interested in what they were doing and why and I saw how much of a difference it made. And I thought this is it, this is what I want to do.”
Dr Parmenter always thought she would specialise in elderly and palliative care, but after studying medicine at the University of Leeds, work in paediatric care, with children, sparked a change of heart.
“I really enjoyed the patients, really enjoyed working with families and gradually through the support of the team in Leeds was convinced I would be quite suited to that,” she reflects.
She has since undertaken specialist paediatric training and her work now has three focuses – neonatal care (for babies), congenital anomalies (conditions that develop pre-birth) and bridging health inequalities.
Of the latter, she says: “That has come from working throughout hospitals in the Yorkshire region and witnessing that [inequality] really, especially after the effects of Covid. Every child deserves the same access and approach to care and the same delivery of care.”
Funded with £211,000 from Leeds Hospitals Charity, the Jeremy Neil Allen Clinical Research Fellowship is giving three doctors at Leeds Children’s Hospital each a 12-month opportunity to receive specialist training at the Leeds Children’s Clinical Research Facility, a centre running clinical trials for babies, children and young people.
During her fellowship, Dr Parmenter worked on a variety of projects, both to improve personalised care for young patients, but also to educate her peers on the importance of research-led care and treatment.
As well as getting involved in a range of trials, including one for a new treatment for children with neuroblastoma cancer, Dr Parmenter devised interventions to help make research “an everyday event” in clinical environments.
“It’s part of our duty of care to be thinking is this child eligible for a study and should we be approaching the family to discuss that?,” she says. “We gain so much information to improve care from doing research studies.”
Dr Parmenter, who is now working as a paediatric doctor with The Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, also carried out a review of outcomes for children with spina bifida, a condition where a baby's spine and spinal cord does not develop properly in the womb, across the whole of Yorkshire.
She is now working on a PhD to explore what happens to children born with spina bifida and compare health outcomes between different socioeconomic groups.
One of the aims is to develop national guidelines to help structure care for children with spina bifida and set up clinics bringing together all the specialities that are involved in a patient’s care.
Reflecting on the impact of the fellowship, Dr Parmenter says it gave her the confidence to pursue PHD research. “The year out of programme has been the most transformative and rewarding time of my medical career to date,” she says.
"I simply cannot imagine the doctor I would have become without precious time and space to develop as a young researcher, something there is simply no time to do in traditional training.
"I would certainly be lacking in a wealth of new knowledge and skills that are fundamental to my aspirations of being a dual role clinical academic neonatal consultant.”
Dr Parmenter believes that every young person should have the opportunity to be part of research. “Being part of a trial can be life-changing because you’re giving patients the opportunity to try a medication that isn't currently available that might impact on the disease course for that family.
"Day-to-day on the wards research is happening everywhere and because of that Leeds is offering such high quality care. Research active centres have better outcomes and patients on wards with children in trials have better outcomes.”
“Research really is the cornerstone of everything we do in medicine,” she adds. “It’s the reason why we know things, why we do things the way we do and how we change things. It’s vital.”