Division Profiles: Professor Helen Killaspy and Professor David Osborn

8 December 2023

Helen Killaspy and David Osborn share an office, a love of Thelma and Louise and job-share as heads of the Epidemiology and Applied Research Department. As they prepare to step down from this role, we caught up with them for a chat.

Helen Killaspy and David Osborn, UCL Psychiatry

Helen Killaspy joined the Division in 1995 and is Professor of Rehabilitation Psychiatry 

What’s in your in-tray, now you have more free time?

I have really enjoyed being HoD but it does take time and so it will be great to have more time for research and to support the junior people coming through and the MSc and PhD students. I will also be able to attend more seminars without being the person chairing them so that will be a bit of a luxury! 

I am leading a large national research programme comparing inpatient mental health rehabilitation services in the NHS and private sector and it will be very good to have more time to focus on that. I am also a co-investigator on quite a few studies, one of which is just starting to recruit - a project being run from Kings on treatment resistant psychosis that aims to identify people who might benefit from treatment with clozapine sooner. When you get more senior it is nice to be a Co-Investigator and support other people to lead research projects so I will be pleased to help a few more people to hopefully gain grants and take on those leading roles.

What is the most interesting thing you've been involved in? 

The thing that I have been involved with that has had the most impact was as the Topic Advisor for the NICE Guideline on mental health rehabilitation for people with complex psychosis. The Guideline is a really important document that helps to ensure that people with particularly severe mental health problems get the right treatment and support, and it’s great to see that it is having an impact worldwide, including in Australia, across Europe, and even in Chile! Service planners and policy makers have realised that this group have been missed out in recent decades but the tide is really turning now and it is so good to know that some of the research I have done has helped that. It’s a nice validation.

When you are not working, what would you be doing? 

I like going to the theatre and cinema, and meeting up with friends. I am from Norfolk originally, so I enjoy getting into the countryside and swimming in the sea – even in the winter! Gardening too. I have an allotment but it’s a bit neglected at the moment!

One thing that people don't know about you.

Well, many years ago I was quite a good tuba player - I played in the National Brass Band Championships as a teenager and more recently in the Lesbian and Gay Symphony Orchestra. Perhaps it’s something I can restart with all this time I’m going to have now I’m no longer HoD!

Is there anything you'd like to say to the division?

We are a very supportive and collaborative place to work. My one piece of advice is, let’s get back into the office more and keep that atmosphere going!

David Osborn joined the Division in 1997 and is a Professor of Psychiatric Epidemiology

What’s in your in-tray, now you have more free time?

The multimorbidity work I am doing with NIHR ARC North Thames and working in Policy Research Units including Behavioural Science and Mental Health. I also work with a national project called the DATAMIND hub to make mental health data more visible for research. Then there’s the day job of working with my data science colleagues here. We use electronic health data, looking at the relationships between physical health and mental health as well as longer-term effects of medication. Finally, there is a project called PRIMOSE which looks at the impact of mental health on physical health – it was a trial but is now being implemented as an intervention in various regions. We’ve been evaluating that along with colleagues in the ARC. 

What is the most interesting thing you've been involved in? 

The work we do using huge national primary care databases and use those data sources to really understand the healthcare challenges for people with severe mental illness (SMI). Many studies we traditionally do take a long time to recruit. And even then, the samples sizes are often small and the people who agree to take part are often not representative of the wider population, perhaps being healthier. However using national GP records, we are able to study larger numbers of real world people for example 50,000 – 100,000 people with SMI. Then we can understand what really happens to them in terms of their health outcomes. I am working with brilliant people from our data science team who know how to analyse these data and the results make a real difference to how the NHS runs

When you are not working, what would you normally be doing? 

One of my big hobbies is music. I enjoy a lot of alternative type music. When I was a teenager, it was probably independent rock and punk. I have seen Blondie many times over the years, including once outdoors in New York by the Brooklyn Bridge which was amazing.  Fontaines D.C., a Dublin band, is another I really like, and I will always keep my ear open to a lot of Scouse bands – there’s a new one called Stone who are full of energy.

One thing that people don't know about you.

That I come from Liverpool, which people don’t guess because my accent is now gone. But when I go there, it all comes back, and I start talking like this [starts talking in Scouse accent]!

Is there anything you'd like to say to the division?

A huge thank you! I love working here, I love my colleagues. The best thing I have seen is the progression of lots of brilliant young people whose careers have taken off and have hugely impressive research outputs. It’s been a pleasure to see so many of our clinical trainees do well with their PhDs. I’m also pleased to see the Division become more diverse and include people from varied backgrounds and scientific disciplines. They are the next generation and I look forward to seeing what they achieve. 

•    Helen Killaspy's academic profile
•    David Osborn's academic profile
•    Epidemiology and Applied Clinical Research Department
•    Division of Psychiatry