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Case study: Working in COVID-19 research: Geraldine Hambrook

Geraldine Hambrook is a research nurse in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Aylesbury’s Stoke Mandeville Hospital, who works on studies into topics including life-threatening infections and emergency surgery. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, she has focused on studies into collecting data from patients to understand the virus.

What studies were you working on before the pandemic?

Most of the studies we had were looking into infections and sepsis, which is where the immune system overreacts to an infection and damages the body's tissues and organs. One of our sepsis studies looked into which administration method of specific antibiotics will give a better chance of recovering. We also did studies into emergency bowel surgery patients, where we looked at monitoring the flow of blood to the heart to guide the dose and timing of IV fluids given during and after surgery.

How has your day-to-day job changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I’ve been working collaboratively with researchers outside of the ICU because one study involves patients with COVID-19 from across the hospital. We’re also liaising more with other departments, such as microbiology, to help us identify COVID-19 patients. We also have to adhere to stricter infection control policies.

What studies are you working on?

I’m working on two studies. GenOMICC is looking at the genetics of patients and seeing if they have genes that make them vulnerable to dying from the virus. So we take blood samples from COVID-19 patients in ICU and send them off to NHS Lothian in Edinburgh for DNA analysis. The other study is CCP-UK, where we collect data from all COVID-19 patients and paint a comprehensive picture of the long-term effects of the virus. It also helps identify groups of patients who may be at risk of becoming more ill with the virus. The studies are quite straightforward as we are only doing data collection and do not need to obtain consent forms. My other colleagues are working on the RECOVERY trial, which is looking at comparing different drug treatments for treating the virus.

What challenges are there with working in COVID-19 research?

One of the main challenges is ensuring we adhere to stricter infection control policies and making sure we are safe before approaching patients. We also have to think about the most appropriate time to collect data from patients on the wards, as it can be very busy and you don’t want to get in the way of the clinical staff. With the GenOMICC study, patients aren’t well enough to speak to us, so we have to contact their loved ones for their verbal consent to take part. It’s challenging not knowing how they will react, but they are usually happy to consent. Communication can also be difficult, as we are wearing face masks and it’s hard for patients to hear us.

What do you enjoy most about your job right now?

Just talking to patients. Even though they are not sure if they’re going to make it or not, they’re still willing to be involved in our studies. In this pandemic we’re also working collaboratively at the hospital and helping each other on studies. I like being part of a research team who are working hard to find an answer to this virus. I also like that even though the clinical staff have a very stressful job caring for patients, they’re still willing to help.

Why should patients volunteer for COVID-19 research?

It’s a new disease and we don’t know much about it, so taking part will help us understand the disease and find an effective treatment and help future patients. Without participants, research would not be possible.