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Cornish chaplain faces needle phobia head on by taking part in a COVID-19 research study to protect those she helps

Cornish chaplain faces needle phobia head on by taking part in a COVID-19 research study to protect those she helps

The lead chaplain of a Cornish NHS Trust has spoken about how getting involved in a COVID-19 research study has enabled her to continue to provide help to patients – and face her phobia of needles.

Reverend Kathy Brooke, the Lead Chaplain at Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, has been taking part in the SIREN study since last year.

The urgent public health study, run by Public Health England, has been regularly testing tens of thousands of health care workers for new COVID-19 infections as well as the presence of antibodies, which suggest people have been infected before. The study, which allows organisations to track infection outbreaks and has been identified as a key study in helping our understanding of COVID-19, has been running across the UK since June last year with more than 3,800 people taking part in this research in the South West.

As part of her involvement in the study Kathy has been having blood and swab tests every two weeks, despite being needle phobic since the age of nine.

“I believe passionately in research which some people don’t think sits comfortably with being a Reverend, but it does because I believe in evidence and I believe in healthcare,” she said. “The opportunity to help and be involved in this study was really important to me and I felt that this was something I could do, something I could offer to the pandemic.

“At the beginning of the pandemic my huge anxiety was around the risk of spreading it to the people I was visiting. We cover the whole Trust – end of life care, mental health, every department. A lot of the people we see are either at the end of their life or are bed bound as a result of a stroke or another condition – people who would be really vulnerable to the virus.

“The idea that I could get involved in this study, to track COVID and its spread, was something I was up for, not necessarily for me, but for my patients’ and their families. But then when I heard that it involved needles and regular blood tests I felt slightly unnerved. I have a deep-seated fear of needles that goes back to when I was a young child. But I knew I wanted to take part in the study and that I’d just have to face my fear. I signed up and they were drawing blood fortnightly which was really daunting.”

Kathy said that getting involved in the study gave her reassurance when she was visiting patients on the wards, and also helped her to become less fearful around needles.

“I told the team who were taking my blood that if I could make myself get tested every fortnight then who knows by the end of it I might actually be able to have blood taken without becoming hysterical and panicked,” she said. “That was the pay-off for me as it were, I contributed to vital research and in return got my blood  drawn regularly which meant I am now less twitchy with needles. I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point where I feel completely comfortable about needles but it’s been a big step forward for me personally. I was even able to have my COVID vaccination last week without too much drama, so it’s been a success all round!”

Last month, the SIREN Study released results which indicate recovering from coronavirus (COVID-19) provides some immunity for at least 5 months. The study concluded that during these months, naturally acquired immunity as a result of a past infection provided 83% protection against re-infection, compared to people who have not had the disease. During this period people may still carry and transmit the virus during this time. This represents an important step in the global understanding of the disease.

The results do not provide evidence towards antibody or immune response to COVID-19 vaccines, but the study team will begin to explore this further over the course of this year.

The study is being supported locally by staff from Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, Torbay & South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and Devon Partnership NHS Trust.