Date: 06 February 2018
Dr Devendra Kumar is the lead for neonatal research at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust.
He is based at the Lancashire Women & Newborn Centre, the Trust’s purpose-built facility in Burnley General Teaching Hospital.
Having got involved in research at an early stage of his career, Dr Kumar is passionate about offering patients access to high-quality research – regardless of their background or where they live.
As an enthusiastic and valued member of the NIHR Greater Manchester Clinical Research Network’s Children’s specialty group, he spoke about his career beginnings in India, his research successes and ambitions, and his passion for gardening!
What is your career background? I initially trained overseas in Chennai, south India, which used to be called Madras, and I also did my post-graduate training there, in a children’s hospital. So I’ve been a paediatrician from the beginning, but wanted to have more training in neonatology which is one of the reasons I came here to the North West.
I was involved in research as a fellow at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester and did my MD (Doctor of Medicine) there before completing my neonatal specialist training. I then started my career here as a consultant neonatologist and I’m in my10th year now.
Why did you get involved in research? It’s my belief that research is a core principle of day-to-day medical care. I see research as mainstream – I don’t consider it as something specialised and something which only happens in certain specialties. Research is mainline healthcare and particularly in my field, neonatology, many of the advances have come as a result of good quality research. I’m sure that parents of children are reaping the benefits of that, along with clinicians.
Of the studies you have worked on, which do you consider to be particularly important? One that stands out for me looked at understanding parents’ attitudes towards the use of NHS data for research purposes. It was called ‘Medicines for Neonates: Data Sharing in Neonatal Services’. I think doctors and nurses often worry about approaching families for consenting research when their children are still so sick. Families are only in the neonatal unit because their babies are not well and, at such an emotive time, you can wonder if it the right thing to go and approach them about research.
That’s an apprehension I’ve had at times, but this study changed that perception because parents overwhelmingly expressed the view that they would like to be part of research. Most said they would like to be asked because they see it as something that’s going to benefit future generations. So that opened our eyes. We are denying people a valuable opportunity to be part of research if we don’t offer them that chance in the first place.
We also played a part in the recently-finished PlaNet-2 study which looked at thresholds for intervention with regards to platelet transfusions. This was a large, multi-national study that recruited 660 babies and we were praised for recruiting the landmark 550th.
How big is your research team?
Each of our eight consultants, including myself, are all involved in recruiting to studies. The unit has a neonatal research nurse, Emily Andrews (funded by the Trust), who also works clinically on Neonatal ICU, with extra cover provided by Heather Collier (funded by CRN GM), along with an administrator and support team.
With this team, research here has gone from strength-to-strength and our move to a custom-made site in Burnley helped raise our profile. If you were to ask me what’s been the biggest positive change, I would say it’s been having dedicated research nurses with time allocated to research – that’s helped tremendously. The current research studies on the unit are BabyOscar and Optiprem.
Do you find parents are receptive to research? And how do you approach seeking consent?
I think having a rapport and establishing continuity with families is very important. On NICU, the fact we’ve been looking after their baby establishes that trust and parents have seen our research nurses on the unit. That link is there and helps parents to be receptive.
I am very particular that the initial approach should be made by somebody the family knows and trusts. Because we’re all part of the team and work very closely together, that’s never been a problem. Of course, some parents may want to find out more information or speak to their partners, but it’s also our job to reassure them and explain the safeguards.
Is the Greater Manchester CRN a useful resource for you?
We attend the Children’s specialty meetings and the link between the research teams across Greater Manchester is very strong. You get to find out what’s going on, network, and share best practice, which is really useful for exchanging ideas on how to overcome a challenge and adapting a recruitment tactic that another team is using well.
When the reconfiguration of the research network happened, there was a bit of anxiety about how good the engagement would be between the LCRNs and the district hospitals. But I’m pleased at how things have developed. It’s important to have that link because research governance is about everybody having access to research. It’s not just about people in big cities accessing a tertiary care centre – they shouldn’t be the only patients who have access to good quality research. My feeling is that access should be universal to everybody and the way you’re going to do that is by promoting research across all fronts, and that includes peripheral hospitals, GP practices and everyone.
What do you enjoy outside of work?
I’m part of a walking group and really enjoy that. We completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge two years ago but would like to expand to explore some nature trails further afield. I also like gardening. I have a young garden that I’ve been tending to for the past three years and it’s starting to look like a proper garden now – it used to be just green and brown but it’s a bit more colourful now!
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