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Working in COVID-19 research: Danielle Thornton

Working in COVID-19 research: Danielle Thornton

Danielle Thornton, a research midwife at Aylesbury’s Stoke Mandeville Hospital, part of Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, is working on studies into how COVID-19 affects pregnancy and whether genetics can influence how people react to the virus. 

How has your job changed since the pandemic started?

It’s changed quite dramatically. Before COVID-19 I was working on studies in the maternity ward and only focusing on my own speciality. I am now working in the main research offices with other research nurses and we’re focusing on just COVID-19 studies. It’s quite an intense experience and a steep learning curve.

What studies have you been working on?

I’ve mostly been working on a study called PAN-COVID, where we are speaking to pregnant women with symptoms of COVID-19 or a positive swab test to find out how the virus affects them and their babies. I’m also working on GenOMICC, which is looking at whether there’s a genetic element as to why some people become more poorly than others. We also have ISARIC, where we collect data from any inpatients that test positive for COVID-19 to help gain a better understanding of the virus.

What does your day-to-day job involve?

Primarily it involves going to wards and speaking to patients about the studies and receiving their consent to take part. If the patients are very unwell, sometimes we’ll call their next of kin to give consent on their behalf. We also do the general running of the studies, so making sure paperwork is up to date and promoting the studies among staff.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the variety and working as part of a team. No day is ever the same and it’s nice working on lots of different studies. I also like seeing the impact that these research studies are having. With the RECOVERY study [into treatments for COVID-19], researchers discovered the benefits of the steroid dexamethasone for certain patients with the virus. Seeing those benefits is very rewarding.

Is there anything you find challenging?

It can be busy and quite stressful, like lots of jobs in the NHS. I have to learn new things very quickly as studies come in, which is the most challenging thing. I’ve found it quite difficult speaking to relatives of patients who were very poorly. It was also a big change going from being a research midwife to working in areas that I’m less familiar with.

Why should patients volunteer for COVID-19 studies?

Research is the best way to learn more about COVID-19 and improve care for future patients. By taking part, patients are helping to make a difference and move things forward quicker.

Are you re-opening non-COVID studies yet?

We’ve got a few studies in maternity that we’ll start running again soon, but COVID-19 studies will still be our priority. As of next week, we’ll be running INGR1D again, which aims to identify the genetic risk factors for type 1 diabetes and involves an extra blood test being added onto the newborn screening test. With these studies we’ll contact patients over email or telephone more to reduce face-to-face contact.