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Case study: Case study: Supporting COVID-19 trials at the Hampshire Research Hub

Ian plans to return to travelling in June this year

In this interview, Dr Ian Bentley describes his experience of supporting  the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine trials at the Hampshire Research Hub in Southampton.

I graduated from Southampton University medical school in 1984. I trained and became a GP principal at Hill Lane Surgery in Southampton, where I was a partner for 30 years and senior partner for the last eight.

I've had many different roles in my career alongside my GP post. I taught 3rd and 4th year medical students, worked as an appraiser after the medical appraisal system was introduced and was a clinical associate specialist in viral hepatology. I also worked intermittently for the out of hours service.

I finally retired in September 2019 to go travelling. I travelled through Europe and spent three months in Africa where I went on a safari, went diving and spent time with local communities. The whole experience was amazing and furthered my wish to continue travelling but on my return, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and my planned travels came to a standstill. 

The doctor who took over my position at Hill Lane Surgery resigned after eight months in the post so I returned to my old job while they reappointed. This confirmed my decision to retire from general practice had been the right one for me. 

Following this, I wanted to do some part time work whilst being unable to travel but didn’t want the pressure that I sometimes felt in my GP role. I saw the opportunity to work in the COVID-19 Vaccine Research Hub advertised and felt my clinical experience made me a suitable person to help out, so I applied and joined in January 2020.

Working at the Research Hub appealed to me because of its relevance to the COVID-19 pandemic and I felt it might make a difference, the hours were also not over onerous and the work less pressurised. 

In the role I have been working beside a number of doctors from various speciality backgrounds, mostly at the same stage of their careers. It's been a fun place to work. As a group we got on very well, we had great banter and interacted socially too. The flexible hours have been useful, given that most of us have retired and enjoy hobbies in our spare time. 

“We nicknamed ourselves the ‘Dad’s Vaccinators’ after the Dad’s Army TV programme.”

We enrolled and processed a number of studies centred around the development of a range of COVID-19 vaccines. The results of these studies have fed into public health policy at national level. So while our roles are low level, nevertheless it's been an essential component in the fight against the virus. 

Getting to grips with the way each vaccine works and the study protocols has been interesting. It enabled us to maintain patient contact and kept our medical brains ticking over. I hadn’t been directly involved in research before but in my role as a clinical associate specialist in viral hepatology, I was very occasionally involved with patients on studies looking at treatments to help those living with the condition. Through this,  I realised the importance of exact data collection and the importance of knowing and following the details of study protocols. 

It’s been fantastic to feel part of a team that has provided information to aid and shape national and international vaccine policies. To be involved even at a low level in helping with essentially how we have managed to get on top of this dreadful pandemic, reducing morbidity and mortality and returning people’s lives through the vaccination has felt very relevant and rewarding. 

“I have especially enjoyed working as part of a team. Who bend over backwards to help each other out. The working environment of the research hub has been so friendly and inspiring.” 

I intend to restart my travels in June this year with an eight month trip through the Americas, however, I hope to return to the hub again if the studies continue on my return.