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Using my COVID-19 experience as an opportunity for positive change


Maria Paton is an HEE/NIHR Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow (CDRF) and Lead Cardiac Scientist for Heart Failure and Device Services at the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTHT). She explains her experience of returning to clinical work and how COVID-19 provided a chance to learn and develop their service for the better.

Return to clinical work

During COVID-19 I was asked to return to clinical work full-time at LTHT, giving up my research role temporarily. My post-doctoral HEE-NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Clinical Lectureship application and my CDRF thesis were due in April. Fortunately, the deadlines were extended and I have since regained my 50% academic role to complete these.

Initially my return to clinical work was predominantly to lead the COVID-19 response for patients with cardiac devices. At first, I was straight back into action and was running on adrenaline. The daunting nature of COVID-19 really struck me when I realised the impact it was going to have on how we deliver support to our patients with heart failure and patients I had fought to protect and improve the lives of.

Now I feel fortunate I can contribute to delivering the best service we can for patients and provide support. In a strange way, COVID-19 has given us a chance to learn and develop our service for the better and use this opportunity to bring positive change.

Using skills learned from my NIHR Fellowship

I've really enjoyed using all the skills I've developed in my NIHR Fellowship to quickly adapt our services. This includes putting into practice some of the leadership skills developed over the last few years to guide colleagues and contribute to planning wider cardiac services. They meant I could continue to emphasise the importance of maintaining our key values and supporting each other, particularly in such a difficult time.

As a clinical academic, organisation and being able to prioritise tasks was something I had to learn quickly in my fellowship, and these skills ensured I kept sane and focussed to complete actions and develop services during the pandemic. I am so grateful my fellowship enabled me to progress in these areas so that I felt capable of applying them when I really needed to.

Some of the work I have been involved in has included determining an entirely new service structure and pathway to our 5,500 cardiac device patients who receive 15,000 outpatient appointments annually to check their symptoms and cardiac device function. We aim to reduce these visits by approximately half, and in some patients groups entirely, by distributing home monitors to utilise a remote follow-up.

I am also restructuring the clinic so it runs alongside a medical outpatient clinic to provide medical therapy support for patients. This ensures we are able to continue providing a collaborative one-stop clinic, reducing risk but effectively maintaining high-quality care for our patients with heart failure.

Proud of colleagues putting patients first

On a personal level, I have had ups and downs. I had to dip my toe into home-schooling, support a self-employed partner working from home without a wage, and deal emotionally with missing important birthdays. This is no more than anyone else, and I feel incredibly lucky that we have all remained healthy.

I have been incredibly well supported by the clinical team, my academic team and supervisor, the broader non-medical research team at the University of Leeds and programme leads at the NIHR Academy.

I am grateful for the time and engagement everyone has made to ensure I am OK, and encourage me to focus on what I thought was right, at the right time.

I am proud of what we achieved within the service during COVID-19 and how the team has come together to change how patients are followed up whilst maintaining excellent care. It has been a pleasure to work more closely with my clinical colleagues. We have had some tears, but also many laughs.

Maria Paton, HEE/NIHR Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow (CDRF) and Lead Cardiac Scientist for Heart Failure and Device Services at the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTHT).

Read more about NIHR’s response to COVID-19. You can find more information about CDRF and other HEE/NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Programme career development opportunities on our website.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.