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Samantha Clarke: The RECOVERY trial at North Bristol Trust

The RECOVERY (Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY) trial has announced that the steroid dexamethasone has been identified as the first drug to improve survival rates in certain coronavirus patients.

We spoke to Samantha Clarke, Lead Research Nurse at North Bristol Trust, about her experience working on the RECOVERY trial and what this news means to her.

"Prior to the COVID pandemic, I was working as a Urology Research Nurse, providing clinical research interventions for patients in both Primary and Secondary Care. At the start of the pandemic, Primary Care research was one of the first areas to cease their patient-facing activity. Around that time, I also found myself having to self-isolate for a two week period. (I have a two and a half year old, for whom, like most toddlers, a spiking temperature is a fortnightly occurrence… but you couldn’t be too safe!).

"What I saw when I returned to work after my isolation was honestly amazing. Previously a large workforce that historically functioned as multiple separate teams, with some that never intermixed, our whole department had now transformed into one slick, multi-disciplinary system, thanks to expert co-ordination by our Research Matron, Deborah Warbrick. Each member of the team had been trained on the COVID-19 priority studies, including the RECOVERY study, and we were deployed to the wards to review patients and offer them the opportunity to take part in potentially life-saving research.

"This was understandably a difficult time for both staff and patients alike. We met with some patients who were extremely poorly, with pre-existing health conditions, or who were suffering in other ways. Some had recently lost relatives or friends to COVID-19 and most were extremely scared. Some were confused, some were exhausted, but the vast majority were eager to help in whatever way they could. Although some patients were apprehensive about the thought of additional medication and declined to take part in RECOVERY for that reason, a number of patients expressed to me how helpless they felt during the pandemic. One patient in particular, who had lost her husband shortly before her admission, felt very strongly that taking part in clinical research was one of the few things she could do to help fight the virus and honour her husband’s memory.

"The staff within the team faced new challenges as well. We were tasked with learning a number of new study protocols in a fraction of the time we normally had to prepare for a single trial. We were going to wards that were unfamiliar, talking to patients about a disease area that might be completely new to us, and liaising with clinicians that we had never met before. Added to these new situations was the understandable anxiety about additional exposure to the virus and concerns about PPE. Despite these challenges, there was a definite buzz in the air. For me, at least, it felt like we were in the thick of it and really doing our bit in the fight against COVID-19.

"The news that dexamethasone had been found to be of such great benefit to patients hospitalised with COVID-19 was fantastic. It is the hope of every researcher that the intervention they are studying will turn out to be of benefit to their patients, but it is rare to find an intervention which makes such a significant difference, and to be in a position to be able to implement the necessary changes so quickly.

"I feel immensely proud to be part of a wide network of researchers, investigators and clinicians that can adapt and act as quickly as we have and I couldn’t be prouder of our team at NBT for delivering first class clinical research in the midst of the most challenging period for healthcare in our lifetime."

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.