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How a research background helped a rheumatology nurse in the fight against COVID-19

How a research background helped a rheumatology nurse in the fight against COVID-19

Although in many ways, the coronavirus pandemic created massive uncertainty for frontline staff, in Victoria Katsande’s case, there were relationships between the ‘old’ normal and the ‘new’ normal of COVID-19.

For Victoria, usually a clinical nurse specialist in rheumatology at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, there were some links between her day job and what she was asked to do when her trust asked her to help during the pandemic.

Victoria was redeployed to a COVID-19 ward and from there, asked to help find recruits for and train staff working on the RECOVERY trial into patients hospitalised with COVID-19.

But the work was not entirely unfamiliar to Victoria as she has a research background.

She started off as a trainee research nurse for a year at Southend Hospital, and then, after completing her training, she did another year at Southend. Victoria then moved to Queen Mary University of London, as a rheumatology research nurse and stayed there for two years. However, even though she was employed by the university, she had an honorary contract with Barts Health NHS Trust. This meant she saw all her patients at Royal London and Mile End hospitals and conducted all the clinical trials at those two sites.

Therefore, recruiting to trials was not new to her. One of the drugs on the RECOVERY trial, tocilizumab, is commonly used to fight the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. In the independent nurse clinics that Victoria runs, where she checks the blood tests of patients, follows up on their medicines and otherwise acts as a point of contact for them, tocilizumab is commonly used.

Partly because of this, moving from a clinic into COVID-19 trials was not daunting to Victoria. Instead, she embraced the new challenge.

Victoria trained staff on how to administer tocilizumab and other monoclonal antibodies and was also involved in drafting administration worksheets for both the RECOVERY and REMAP-CAP trials.

“It was quite exciting to be part of trials which was so important. It felt like we were taking part in something which was key in the fight against this new virus.

“I knew the drug, because it guards against inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, so I think that’s perhaps why I was chosen to recruit to the trial.”

Victoria said the importance of the trial was felt throughout the trust’s staff when data started to be released into the public domain.

She explained: “When the first results came out from RECOVERY, it felt as though everyone was interested and wanted to know what we were involved in.”

As someone who was redeployed from another department, Victoria was thanked for her efforts in a tweet from the trust’s research team and is also due to receive a certificate of thanks.

Now, she is back at the rheumatology clinic, usually speaking to patients over the phone due to COVID restrictions.

Will she get involved in research again in the future? “I would like to think my department would get more involved in research, but for the moment, we’re just focusing on looking after our patients,” she said.