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Clinical Research Network supports staff at Royal United Hospitals Bath Research and Delivery Department

The Clinical Research Network (CRN) delivers support to our Primary and Secondary care partner organisations in a variety of different ways. Zainab, Portfolio Facilitator at the CRN, explains how she has recently supported the Research & Development (R&D) Department at Royal United Hospitals (RUH) Bath during their period of staffing difficulties, the insights this has brought from the ‘other side’ of research and how the CRN can further support research delivery.


What does your role within the CRN involve, and how do you help to support research in the West of England on a day-to-day basis?
“For my role as a Portfolio Facilitator, to use an analogy, I’m like a matchmaking service. I find new studies that are coming onto the portfolio and I get all of the necessary information and create, if you like, a dating profile for each one. This includes the study protocol, the schedule of events, how many participants the study team require, and what facilities they expect a site to have. After collecting this information, I then disseminate it to all of our partner organisations within the region. If the sites like that ‘profile’ and think it is a suitable ‘match’ i.e. a feasible study they can conduct, they can then liaise with me and I then put them in touch with the study team. Essentially, I bring studies and sites together so that research can take place in the region.”

Can you tell us about your work in supporting the RUH Research & Delivery department?“Recently the R&D Department at RUH were short-staffed, so my Research Delivery Manager and I offered to help out. We supported with study set-up; so, once the studies came through from the Clinical Research Network (or other sources) and the RUH decided they wanted to take part in these studies, I then helped out with the set-up of those studies. I liaised with the delivery teams to ensure that they had all necessary arrangements in place such as research staff, and that they had the capacity, the equipment, that they had a Principal Investigator (PI) in place, and so on. I helped to ensure that the study set-up was done as quickly and smoothly as possible to ensure that we met one of our Higher Level Objectives, which is study set-up within 40 days.”

What kinds of studies were you supporting at the RUH?
“In my role as a Portfolio Facilitator at the CRN, I cover a number of different specialties that range from mental health and dementia to injuries and emergencies and critical care. However, at RUH, I was working across a wider range of specialties. We actually set up a cancer trial at RUH, and I don’t usually cover cancer studies, so it was really interesting seeing the different protocol and how much bigger cancer trials are compared to smaller specialties.”

How did you find working with the R&D team at RUH?
“As a Portfolio Facilitator, as soon as I send a study to a site and they are interested in taking part, I put them in touch with the study team and then I leave them to liaise with each other, so I don’t know what happens after that. At RUH, I got to see what happens once I put the teams in touch with each other, so it was very interesting to see the procedure that follows.
It was a humbling experience because I got to see first-hand the challenges that the R&D Departments face within our Partner Organisations, in terms of assessing capacity and capability and setting studies up in time. There might be some last minute changes that pop up, so you have to try to overcome those challenges and be more solution-focused. It was an interesting experience and I definitely have a lot more respect for the R&D Departments now having experienced ‘the other side’ myself!”

What was the biggest challenge that you experienced?
“I think the biggest challenge was delays - waiting on other people and ensuring that we had all the necessary arrangements in place. It’s not as clear cut as just finding a study you’re interested in. You have to consider, for example, if you have a Research Nurse for support throughout the duration of the study; it might be that the study goes on for two years but you only have that research support post in place for one year.

Our colleagues at RUH in the R&D Department were really supportive however, so if I ever came across one of these challenges they would let me know how to solve it. The research teams were brilliant, and it was a very harmonious working relationship.”

Do you think this experience has changed how you approach your work as a Portfolio Facilitator at the CRN?
“Yes, I think that because I now have more knowledge of what the R&D Departments deal with, I’m going to be a lot more empathetic. If there’s a delay, I know why there’s a delay and I’m understanding of that, and I can then feed that back to then NIHR Coordinating Centre on their behalf.” 

What would you like to see for the future of research at RUH?
“I would like to see it grow. I’d like to see perhaps a growth in sexual health research specifically, because that’s an area of interest in RUH and they wish to grow their sexual health portfolio.”

What would you like research staff in the West of England to know about the CRN?
“I think the most important thing I’d like to tell research staff in the West of England is that the Clinical Research Network exists. I met a member of staff at the RUH who was new to the post as a research nurse and wasn’t sure of what we do. I find that people have heard of the CRN, but when I ask them, “Do you know what we do?” they can’t always answer the question.

So, I’d like them to know that we do exist, we’re here to assist with the smoothest possible delivery of research, and we are here to support you. If you ever need any help in terms of recruitment or you have issues with capacity then let us know and we can help you. For example, at the R&D Department at RUH, when they were struggling with research set-up because they were short-staffed, we as a CRN went in to help them. When the PD COMM - Lee Silverman Voice Treatment study needed research support staff, our flexible team was able to step in. I think that maybe other Partner Organisations aren’t aware of all the ways that we can help to ensure that the research is delivered. If you are stuck, get in contact and we will work towards helping you find a solution.”

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