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Research practitioner proud to support response to COVID-19

Clinical Research Practitioner Natalie Long works for the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) South London and she is currently helping to deliver the national RECOVERY trial at the Princess Royal University Hospital (PRUH). Here, Natalie speaks about the pride she feels in helping to play her part in the global search for a treatment for COVID-19.

Without research we wouldn’t have known that use of the steroid drug dexamethasone helps to reduce mortality in hospitalised COVID-19 patients with respiratory complications. Many clinical trial protocols have been streamlined to ensure that their results can help to guide national and global treatment strategies as quickly as possible.

At the PRUH, one of the largest studies we are working on is the ‘Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) trial. RECOVERY is a NIHR portfolio study led by the University of Oxford and supported by the NIHR CRN South London.

Patients at the PRUH are randomised to receive either usual standard care, or standard care plus one of the main treatments being evaluated. When medications emerge as possible treatments, they can be added as ‘arms’ of the study the person could be selected onto.

The following treatments are being evaluated:

  • Lopinavir-ritonavir, which is used to treat HIV.
  • Low-dose dexamethasone, a steroid being used to limit inflammation in the lungs.
  • Antibiotic Azithromycin.
  • Tocilizumab, an anti-inflammatory treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Convalescent plasma.

Working on COVID-19 trials has been a steep learning curve, but RECOVERY trial Principal Investigator Dr Mark McPhail, who is a Consultant in Liver Critical Care and Hepatology at Denmark Hill, has been very supportive. Our research team at the PRUH has been formed from a variety of specialties. The way the team and King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust have adapted has been fantastic and our site lead, Dr Deepak Rao, who is a Consultant Respiratory Physician, has been so positive throughout and he is a real role model. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such caring, hardworking and resilient people. The support from across the organisation has been tremendous.

Many of us had not worked in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) before the pandemic, so we had to adapt very quickly to the new environment. The RECOVERY trial was the first COVID-19 study we opened at PRUH, and the first couple of weeks of working in the ICU was very challenging.

The patients who can consent to taking part in the trial may feel scared, and communication can be challenging through a face mask and visor, but we always strive to be clear and compassionate in ensuring that the patient is fully informed about the trial.

I believe that the biggest personal growth comes from the greatest challenges. Working in this environment has been difficult and at times really upsetting. However, I have thankfully seen very ill patients recover and go home to their families. This work has given me a huge sense of fulfillment, and I am so proud to have played my part in helping to find a treatment for COVID-19.

The RECOVERY trial is being funded by UK Research and Innovation and the NIHR and through core funding provided by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, Wellcome, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Department for International Development, Health Data Research UK, the Medical Research Council Population Health Research Unit and NIHR Clinical Trials Unit Support Funding.

Visit the RECOVERY trial website for more information.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.