Published: 05 June 2020
Fiona Yelnoorkar is Lead Midwife at the Clinical Research Network North East North Cumbria, and is responsible for the management of NIHR specialties including Reproductive Health and Childbirth (RH&C). Fiona writes about her experiences redeployed to support the recruitment of pregnant women as part of the COVID-19 research team at The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
I am a qualified nurse and midwife and have worked in the NHS for almost 20 years.
I was excited to be asked to join the COVID-19 research team as I felt that my knowledge and skills would enable me to positively contribute to the delivery of the portfolio during these extraordinary times. I also felt that I was in a good position to provide leadership and support to the excellent delivery staff who were themselves adapting to new ways of working to meet the needs of this service.
I was excited about redeployment but also apprehensive as it had been quite a while since I had actually offered anyone the opportunity to participate in a study directly. Thankfully, I hadn’t forgotten what to do and my colleagues made me feel very welcome when I returned.
There is so much uncertainty right now, not least for expectant mothers. It is extremely important that we, as midwives, are able to support pregnant women and their families to participate in research, so that we can learn about the impact of the disease upon pregnancy and identify ways to treat it. The faster we recruit people into clinical trials and other studies, the sooner we will have the evidence on which we can base our practice and provide women and their families with the best possible care.
We’re working to identify pregnant women who receive a positive result following their screening for COVID-19. One study, RECOVERY is looking at re-purposing existing and new drugs for COVID-19 patients. Essentially, it will test if existing or new drugs can help patients hospitalised with confirmed COVID-19. Research has never been so important.
Usually our day-to-day research delivery is very much led by research midwives who are experts in their field. We have excellent working relationships with our clinical colleagues which has shone through throughout this process. The principal investigators are fountains of knowledge, they talk about this disease in relation to other coronaviruses and they understand all the science behind it. It’s reassuring having them by our side. We’re all working closely together, but we always do. No change there. We’ve set up an effective screening process and as a team we are all pulling together to reassure staff and patients that we are able to provide them with research opportunities.
COVID-19 has meant significant changes for so many of us. When we first started approaching patients around COVID-19 research, there were lots of different staff members from different teams coming together to work on the studies. Now the teams cover specific wards and work with consultant leads which provides better continuity of care giver, and builds better relationships with the staff on the wards. Normally changes like that would take a long time, but due to the scale and pace of this disease and the urgency of the studies, things move much faster.
I don’t necessarily miss my ‘usual job’ as I am absolutely certain that my contribution to the delivery of these studies is the foundation on which my usual role is built. We all have the same goal when working in research delivery, to offer all eligible participants the opportunity to take part in research, at the most appropriate time, in the most appropriate place and by the most appropriate person.
We’re providing a seven day service with shifts covering 8am-8pm and we work across all inpatient areas to ensure patients are identified early and offered the opportunity to participate in the study if they are eligible. No two days are the same but there’s a great sense of preparedness within the team. We’re ready for anything.
It’s most definitely a very positive ‘learning together’ kind of atmosphere, and people aren’t afraid of the challenge or to change something if it’s not working. After all, everything we do is about improving care for our patients.
Supported by NIHR guidance, Fiona and her team at The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are now carefully planning to resume some of the studies that were paused due to COVID-19. Read more about how the NIHR is supporting the restart of paused research activities across the UK.