Case study: A rewarding return to research
In this interview, Dr Simon Fowler describes his experience of coming out of retirement to support the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine trials at the Hampshire Research Hub in Southampton.
It’s an incredibly supportive environment at the research hub which is so important for staff morale and enjoyment.
When the pandemic began, I had been retired from General Practice for about 18 months and enjoying it. However with the pressures on the NHS I thought that I could and should do something to help.
I considered returning to general practice but GP surgeries at the time didn’t have any particular need for help so I looked at alternatives and decided to take a look at helping with vaccinations.
I received an email about a position at the Hampshire Research Hub based at the Royal South Hants Hospital, and thought it might be a good opportunity for me so I registered an interest and was phoned a few days later and interviewed.
The blanket roll out of emergency registration by the General Medical Council (GMC) for recently retired doctors to return to practice was crucial to aid my return to work quickly.
Previously I’ve had experience in research at the Memory Assessment and Research Centre in Moorgreen Hospital. I did half a day a week for around nine years, working alongside research nurses, consenting patients with cognitive impairment into trials, prescribing drugs and assessing patients. I was, therefore, familiar with a lot of trial processes including the paperwork and ethical frameworks.
Working at the vaccine research hub has been an incredibly rewarding experience.
The processes within the vaccine research trials are similar to those that I was used to, the big difference being that the participants in the vaccine trials are, on the whole, younger and fitter with less pre-existing medical conditions. There’s also a real keenness to be involved, both participants and staff, which makes the whole process feel very optimistic and upbeat.
It’s been a lot easier to recruit people to these trials and there has been a large media presence around the hub and it’s been advertised well on local TV, radio and in the press. This has helped people to become much more aware of the research that’s taking place in their local area and has also helped to show how important research can be when there is a specific goal in mind.
The speed of these trials has been phenomenal and very different to the research I’ve been involved with before. I don’t know if that will continue with future research projects but it has proved that it can be done.
My role at the hub is based around assessing eligibility and consenting people into the trial, along with explaining all the necessary information to them. I then follow up with participants regularly when they come in - checking blood tests, looking at any anomalies or possible reactions to the vaccine. They appreciate the contact and time with us and we can also refer them on for further investigations as necessary.
I’ve enjoyed seeing patients again, as I was unaware how much I have missed that since retiring.
I’ve enjoyed seeing patients again, as I was unaware how much I have missed that since retiring. With the access to medical care so disrupted by the pandemic a lot of the trial participants have been grateful to see medical professionals to help answer some of their general queries.
When we have quieter days at the hub it gives us more time to look at patient problems and collaborate. It’s an incredibly supportive environment at the research hub which is so important for staff morale and enjoyment. I tend to work on average 2-3 days a week but it varies depending on when I’m needed.
During my time here I’ve worked across a lot of different vaccine trials including Com-COV, COV-BOOST, Vaneva and Janssen.
I felt it was important for me to contribute and I intend to carry on, if needed, until at least September, when my emergency registration expires. I’ll decide then if I want to, or am able to, carry on. Working at the vaccine research hub has been an incredibly rewarding experience.