In the latest blog in our Delivering research for all series, Dr Tina Dutt discusses why she became involved with medical research and her top tips for those who want to do the same.
Why did I get involved?
When I was appointed as an NHS haematology consultant around 5 years ago, recruitment to haematology studies was low. The specialty had traditionally been under-resourced and clinical research was perceived as distinct from patient care. In a challenging NHS environment, clinical haematology studies were not a priority.
Although I had successfully completed a BSc and PhD during my training, obtaining an Medical Research Council fellowship, British Heart Foundation grant and Bayer scholarship, I had minimal experience as an active clinical researcher or principal investigator of clinical trials. As a new consultant, this was foreign territory, requiring work not only outside my comfort zone, but also beyond my ever-increasing clinical responsibilities.
I believed, however that we could and should be delivering important clinical research opportunities for patients hand-in-hand with high-quality clinical care. Research can enable life-changing or life-saving opportunities for patients and I was determined to make this difference as an NHS clinician keen to integrate research into routine clinical practice.
What did I do?
I worked hard to forge productive relationships with the Clinical Research Network (CRN) team and our industry partners. I also built a ‘research-positive’ culture within my unit holding regular recruitment updates for the clinical team. This produced an inclusive research-friendly environment where everyone was encouraged to share the fruits of their labour.
We concentrated on making small but effective changes to streamline the clinical research and recruitment process for patients and the clinical team. For example, we created research information packs detailing all available trials to inform recruiting doctors/nurses and patients of their options. To optimise recruitment to trials, we also ensured the presence of a dedicated research nurse in clinics.
We now provide a diversity of research opportunities for patients with rare disease and vulnerable patient groups with chronic conditions such as haemophilia, thrombophilia, TTP and sickle cell disease. Patients have personally fed back that such opportunities have been life-changing in their overall care.
What were the outcomes?
- The number of active clinical trials hosted by our Unit jumped from one to over 30 locally, with patient recruitment exploding from single figures in to the hundreds. This was enabled by dedicated nursing and data management support from the CRN taskforce.
- We received research awards from the RCP, British Society for Haematology and National Insitute for Health Research (NIHR) for Researcher and Research Team of the Year, recognising the collective efforts that had transformed how we delivered patient care.
- We now provide a diversity of research opportunities for patients with rare disease and vulnerable patient groups with chronic conditions such as haemophilia, thrombophilia, thrombotic thrombocytopenia purpura (TTP) and sickle cell disease. Patients have personally fed back that such opportunities have been life-changing in their overall care.
- The clinical reputation of our centre meant that we continued to attract commercial studies. This allowed us to further strengthen our translational track record of basic science research in patients with blood-related complications and critical illness.
- On a personal level, it was rewarding to be personally commended by Dame Sally Davies, chief medical advisor to the government, for my contribution to commercial portfolio studies. A few years later we met again at the NIHR Leadership Programme where we discussed the importance of supporting all clinicians as key players in the delivery of research rich medicine in the UK.
- Find doctors and nurses who share your vision to be research-active and combine strengths to overcome the inevitable challenges. For NHS consultants, time is precious, so it is invaluable to have a supportive team alongside you to avoid giving up early on.
- Start with a straightforward project, for example a study that you and your team can easily offer to patients. Share the results of the trial with your team and your patients – we all enjoy a pat on the back for work well done.
- The NHS is as demanding as it is rewarding, but it is a wonderful feeling to provide life- changing or saving opportunities for your patients through research. Trust me, it provides a different sense of worth to each member of the team involved and is a driver for us to provide the same for all of our patients.
- Believe that clinical research is a pillar of the best care you can provide to your patients. Spread the word!
Dr Tina Dutt is the clinical research lead for The Roald Dahl Haemostasis and Thrombosis Centre at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, and NIHR Specialty Research Group lead for clinical haematology on the North West coast. You can follow her on twitter at @TinaDuttDr.
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