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Case study: Dr Raha West: managing a COVID-19 research trial

Dr Raha West is an anaesthetist and principal investigator for the RECOVERY study into COVID-19 treatments at Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust. Here she reflects on the role of research during the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a far reaching effect on NHS staff and will continue to for months to come. Many of us have had to adapt to the ‘new normal’ which is very different than what we are used to. We were, suddenly, having to wear personal protective equipment and adapt to different ways of gaining valid informed consent, every time we approached eligible patients with COVID-19. This has now become our normal practice.

“Research on COVID-19 has become necessary to provide us with the knowledge to make informed decisions when there are so many uncertainties. However, it can be challenging to do so with the increasing demand on workforce and clinical duties.

“At Buckinghamshire NHS Healthcare Trust our patients are at the centre of our efforts. One of the studies we are doing is trying to find any treatment that can benefit COVID-19 patients, the RECOVERY trial. One of the approaches I took in running the RECOVERY trial was building a solid team under a well-informed leadership. It is also important to make my team feel well appreciated while keeping them confident with my support.

“We work hard to give our patients the opportunity to be involved in research. Our team of doctors are recruiting people in their spare time and making time for research despite the current pressures during this pandemic. With the support from our research department and our local NIHR clinical research network, we are able to achieve what we have for the RECOVERY trial.

“During the first three weeks of being the trial’s principal investigator, I engaged with clinicians across the trust and encouraged them to do the training to recruit into the study. I also worked very closely with the clinical trial pharmacist as this study involved at least five drugs, and things were changing and moving very rapidly.

“We wrote various guides, and put up posters on the wards to raise awareness. This enabled the trust to screen all patients for the study when they came to A&E with symptoms and recruit those who were eligible and consented. I had COVID-19 myself for five weeks and continued to manage the trial from home. This has been the most eye-opening and valuable experience I have had in running a clinical trial.”