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Blog: Delivering the RECOVERY trial in Greater Manchester

Ellie Watson is a Team Lead Research Nurse who supports the delivery of research studies in her role with NIHR CRN Greater Manchester. Here, she blogs about her experience of working on the RECOVERY trial, which is seeking to find treatments for patients hospitalised with COVID-19, and the inspiration she has drawn from both her NHS colleagues and the research participants.

Supporting the RECOVERY trial across multiple NHS sites

At the start of 2020, none of us could have imagined how much our lives would change over the coming year or the impact that COVID-19 would have globally upon research. This was particularly true for me, having worked for nine years clinically as a mental health nurse and stepping into my first research role with the CRN Greater Manchester delivery team at the start of February 2020. I was settling into the team when lockdown began and was re-deployed to support COVID research at Wythenshawe Hospital, part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust. I worked on several studies but spent the majority of my time supporting the RECOVERY trial. With the support of my colleagues, I quickly got to grips with the study and the acute secondary care setting and began recruiting.

From March until June 2020 I was based at Wythenshawe Hospital. Then I briefly spent some time supporting North Manchester General Hospital (NMGH) at the end of the summer, but with patient numbers in hospital much lower than earlier in the year, the main focus turned to data entry and queries across the COVID portfolio. In the autumn, I was allocated to support in other high-priority COVID research areas, including primary care and vaccine trials. However as cases began to rise again, and we were encouraged to shift our focus back onto the RECOVERY trial, I am back with hospital COVID research teams supporting the RECOVERY trial at Wythenshawe and Stepping Hill Hospital, part of Stockport NHS Foundation Trust.

It has been interesting to see how teams work differently across the region. How despite delivering the same study, they are able to adapt their ways of working to meet the needs of the research staff and the hospital setting they work in. It has been good to be able to share my experiences with the teams I have supported about how different sites are approaching recruitment and randomisation, to give them ideas to consider and to share good practice. There are definitely several areas though which have been consistent across the three hospital sites I have supported with the RECOVERY trial:

Patients pleased to be part of research 

The patient engagement has been amazing to see. Despite being often very unwell, concerned about their health, and away from their families during their inpatient stay, so many patients have been really keen to take part and support research. There have been numerous times I have heard people say something along the lines of “whatever I can do to help get the country and the world out of this situation...”. Even those who have chosen not to take part have seemed thankful that they have been considered and interested to hear about what we are doing to try and battle the virus. I hope that this increased awareness of COVID research across the general public will improve engagement and participation in many more areas of health and social research in the years to come.

Excellent engagement from NHS staff

Clinical engagement has also been great. So many doctors across the region, from juniors to consultants, from those who are research-aware to those who have never done Good Clinical Practice (GCP) before, they have got on board with the training and supported the research team in consenting and recruiting participants. With research staff and the RECOVERY trial being so prominent on many hospital wards over the last year, I have also had so much interest from ward nurses, Allied Health Professionals (AHPs), and domestic staff. They have all been keen to know what the study is about and regularly ask when I come back on the wards how the study is going and what new treatments are being trialed.

Generally, the interest in research from our clinical colleagues has been overwhelming. This has shown in our recent delivery team job applicants at CRN GM, with many clinical staff keen to explore a career in research – our workforce of the future inspired by COVID research and the RECOVERY trial.

Inspiring colleagues

All the research staff I have worked with are an inspiration. They have been on a rollercoaster over the last year with ups and downs aplenty. Nothing has stopped them, working hard to do the best for the patients, to support the clinical staff, and support their research colleagues. Many have been re-deployed and got used to working in a new specialty area and with a new team but everyone I have met has taken it in their stride. We have all spent long days working in and out of COVID wards and in PPE. It has not been an easy journey for anyone professionally or personally but everyone has pulled together to do their best. This has been particularly evident over the last month or two where all sites have been asked to pick up recruitment again for the RECOVERY trial, and despite having a lot else on their plates, it has been great to see that all our region has been able to achieve this through their hard work and determination.

Research innovation

Finally, it has been a time of research innovation. All the sites I have supported have set up studies at such speed and implemented amendments so quickly, particularly with the RECOVERY trial regularly evaluating new potential treatment options which sites have worked hard to make available to patients through research. There has been a lot of good communication between research staff, clinical staff, and across sites, to share new and different ways of working. Teams have been keen to explore and adapt to ensure we are working in the most productive and safe ways possible. I hope these relationships across the region of “marvelous Manchester” will continue to build and allow us to continue to innovate together and try new things so we can offer our population the best research experiences and clinical care.

Proud to be part of research discoveries

A year since I started in research, a lot has changed across the research landscape and for me professionally. When I heard the news that the use of dexamethasone resulted in lower 28-day mortality for those on oxygen or ventilated, it brought a tear to my eye to know that my work recruiting participants to the trial had helped get us towards something that would improve outcomes for our most unwell patients in hospital. It was our first step forward in fighting this virus. I am so glad I made the jump into research when I did, that I joined such a great team and region, and that I have been able to be a part of fighting COVID even in a very small way. I have learnt so much along the way and am really thankful to my colleagues at Wythenshawe, NMGH, Stepping Hill and of course CRN GM for all their support and hard work.

Read more about RECOVERY

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