Hampshire nurse leader supports delivery of COVID-19 research
In 2019, Cindy Whitbread, a Lead Research Nurse at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (HHFT), became one of four nurses in the Wessex region to join the NIHR’s 70@70 research leadership programme.
As part of the programme, Cindy has spent the last year championing and embedding a research active culture, encouraging and supporting innovation and informing research priorities within HHFT.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Cindy continues to support and develop research and is working alongside colleagues across HHFT to deliver urgent public health research. In this interview, she explains how her role has changed, her journey into research and the benefits that research can bring.
“As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve adapted my hours so I'm now working Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday to help provide seven day a week cover for research,” explains Cindy. “Everything we do has intensified and the risks associated with COVID-19 can be daunting, but there’s lots of support for the staff and we are working as one.”
“I’ve worked in research for a long time and have covered lots of different areas. From the first in human trials, to the large phase trials that we’re seeing with COVID. My work is fairly similar now, but I’m just doing it through a different lens.
“I’ve been visiting the clinical teams and looking at the pathways to deliver research studies in A&E and the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). This is very much a part of my 70@70 nurse role, which is about integrating research into clinical practice. It's busy but what's been really great is seeing the team all come together. People are really stepping up to the challenge.
“We used to have a wide portfolio of research, from observational studies to complex randomised control trials (RCTs). We also had the time to go through the pathways of those studies in detail. Now, given the urgent nature of the situation, we’re having to react and evaluate the studies much more quickly which we’ve been able to do as a team. We’re running several urgent public health RCTs and we’re often working with drugs we don’t know or have never used in this way.
“Research nursing involves being methodological and having attention to detail. The training and support that we have within the Trust has enabled us to deliver research in areas that we might not always work in. We’re drawing on our own experience as practitioners and knowledge of research and it’s working really well. We have lots of good skills in the team and people have learnt a lot. We’re taking time to go through everything and we’re making sure that people feel supported to deliver research.
“The RECOVERY study is going really well. It’s been great for engaging with the clinical teams and staff have enjoyed the challenge of working on it. It’s had a lot of coverage in the media and that makes us feel part of something really important."
"I think the fact that research has come to the forefront of everything that we're doing now is so important.”
When it comes to the profile of research, Cindy believes this may have increased as a result of the pandemic: “Everyone is engaging with research because they can see the benefits of it. From a patient participation point of view, they really are getting to give something back. Sometimes, when we’re recruiting to a ten-year study and it takes a while for the analysis to be carried out, people can think: “What’s in it for me?”. Whereas now, people can really see the impact of research.
“From the point of view of my 70@70 role, I think this experience may help us to broaden research in the hospital in the future. We’re delivering some in-house COVID-19 studies which has given people in the Trust the opportunity to carry out their own research. We have clinicians who are writing their protocols and pushing them through which is fantastic.”
Having worked in research for over ten years, Cindy has a wealth of experience to offer. Her journey into research has seen her take on a number of positions with the NIHR:
“I started as a surgical nurse and then I ended up in pre-op assessment for a few years which was good. I did my Diploma in Nursing and I’ve also done an independent degree in Clinical Practice. The last module on the course about evidence based practice inspired me. It made me question why we do things in a certain way and where our knowledge comes from.
“I thought it was really interesting so I sidestepped into cancer research and worked in Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight for three years which was great. I did my masters in research at the University of Southampton and following that, I took on a role as a Sister working at the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London. It was really interesting as I did a mixture of everything.
"I then went to work as a Lead Research Nurse at the NIHR Oxford Cognitive Health Clinical Research Facility. As a mental health role, it was completely different to what I’d done before but I just loved it. It just goes to show that once you get into research, you can do absolutely anything and it’s still as diverse as general nursing is.
“When I left Oxford, I went into patient safety at the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) for a while and did research alongside that. I’ve been working at HHFT as a Lead Research Nurse for two years. I’m also writing up my thesis for a Doctorate in Advanced Healthcare Practice where I researched what it was like for nurses looking after patients who were taking part in research. When I was a surgical nurse I never had to, so it was interesting to listen to the experiences of nurses who do.”
On the role of the research nurse, Cindy concludes: “When you look at what Florence Nightingale did, she was doing research. She wanted to know what was happening. She was looking at evidence based practice, using different dressings and nursing in different ways to improve patient care, which is no different from what we're doing now.
“Although I think that’s been lost in translation over the years, the importance of research has been highlighted again. COVID-19 demonstrates the importance of research and why we do it. It’s all about gathering the knowledge. I think the fact that research has come to the forefront of everything that we're doing now is so important.”