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An interview with Clinical Director Helen Quinn

PRC Exeter Clinical Director Helen Quinn

Helen Quinn is the Research & Development Director for the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, and Clinical Director for the NIHR Patient Recruitment Centre (PRC): Exeter.

We asked her to tell us a bit about herself and what the PRC does.


How did you get into research?

I started my first research job back in 1992, it was with a diabetes team and I’ve had lots of different research roles since. I’ve worked as a university research fellow, I’ve worked in various research jobs in the NHS, and I was also head of R&D for the defence nursing services when I had a three year short service commission in the army medical services.

That sounds like more careers than one person can possibly have time for! What does that take in terms of training?

I trained as a registered nurse and worked in various clinical roles following that. As a staff nurse I worked in different departments including an emergency department, a bone marrow transplant unit and a cancer surgery ward, before I went into research roles. Post qualification, I took a master’s degree in research methods and statistics, and have undertaken various courses since. I qualified as a professionally qualified officer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and I’ve also undertaken leadership and management development as part of a program at the Ashridge Business School.

Can you tell us what the PRC does?

The PRC is an extremely important part of the infrastructure within the Trust. We deliver a large amount of research across many different specialties. The PRC fits in at the later phase of research, where we will enrol a lot of patients, and is there to support the research we do with commercial life sciences partners. It’s a crucially important way for us to be able to provide more opportunities, and to work as closely as possible with our general practice, community providers and other/external organisations across the region. It’s got additional funding from the NIHR, which means that we’ve got the capacity and the capability to deliver late phase trials at pace, within a bespoke unit that gives us the space to see people.

What is a late phase trial?

A late phase trial or study happens after we’ve already done initial research to determine whether a new product might work or not. We’ve got a whole raft of initial information about how a new drug might potentially help from the earlier stages, and we are building on this information.

At the very first stage, you do trials with smaller numbers of people whilst you work out the safety profile of the drug and whether it actually has any effect. Then as the phases go along we get to phase three and four, where we work on a much larger scale with a lot more people, to test whether results from the initial stages are actually being replicated in many hundreds of patients – to confirm whether or not the drug is having the effect we anticipated. That’s where we come in with the PRC.

Why should people get involved, and how do they do it?

Exeter has become a centre of excellence for medical research, with the RD&E and the University of Exeter working together to produce an outstanding environment across all phases of research.

One of the really important things that we believe – and the research supports this - is that patients have better outcomes when they are treated in a research-intensive environment. By participating in trials and studies, patients have a unique opportunity to potentially benefit from a new or novel therapy or to contribute data that can change the way we deliver care. It’s all done in a really managed way, so we have lots of safety tests and we keep a very close eye on people in trials. This greater degree of monitoring can in itself be a benefit during patients’ care.

There are lots of quality systems built in, so we collect a huge amount of information. This is constantly reviewed to ensure that the study isn’t only safe when we start it, but remains safe for participants as they move through the trial.

Patients who are interested in taking part can find more information here or contact us at