How research has kept calm and carried on over a year of lockdown

Over the last year many in the Oxford Health Research and Development team have been asked to work from home. But lockdown restrictions have not slowed the pace of research at the trust. 

How research has kept calm and carried on over a year of lockdown

From keeping existing trials on track and opening new pandemic related studies, to supporting delivery of a vaccine trial and providing a staff vaccination hub, Research and Development (R&D) at the trust has been able to go from strength to strength over the last year.

Bill Wells, Head of Research and Development at Oxford Health, says:

“When lockdown began last year it was hard to envisage how our work would continue under such extraordinary circumstances. Thanks to the dedication and flexibility of our staff we have been able to keep up the momentum of research at the trust and to make a real contribution to the pandemic response. I am grateful to the team for their commitment and very proud of all that they have achieved.”

Following the first anniversary of lockdown in the UK, here are some of R&D’s achievements from the last year.

Redeployment of research staff

As well as getting used to the challenges of working from home, many R&D staff have been adapting to a different kind of challenge having been redeployed in clinical roles across the trust to great mutual benefit.

Research nurses, admin staff and AHPs took on new roles across the trust, working on the frontline in community hospitals, in swabbing clinics and in The Highfield Unit. As well as providing additional capacity in clinical teams, R&D staff have built new relationships with clinical colleagues and gained new understanding of the work they do.

Continuing to open new studies

In spite of lockdown restrictions 47 new studies have been opened at the trust since March 2020, including ten related to the COVID pandemic. The new studies have spanned a range of specialties including mental health, dementia, young people’s mental health, and public health.

Tahnee Marquardt Research Implementation Manager in the Mental Health Research Delivery Team explains:

“We were able to continue delivering research because study teams were very flexible in adjusting their approach, for instance enabling remote assessments. Everyone has gone above and beyond their role to make it work.”

Amanda Colston, Community Research Delivery Lead and Acting Team Lead for the Memory and Cognition Research Delivery Team adds:

“We’ve been so proud of how our teams have adjusted to the challenges of working from home, keeping dementia studies going in spite of the challenges of doing this remotely and continuing to support and recruit participants, even delivering investigational drugs to people’s homes last summer.”

Supporting vaccine development

As well as keeping regular studies running smoothly, R&D colleagues have risen to the challenge of supporting urgent public health studies around the development of vaccines.

In late 2020 R&D staff at the NIHR cognitive health Clinical Research Facility worked to an incredibly short timeline to set up the Novavax vaccine study in just four days.  They went on to exceed recruitment targets in less than a month. Amanda Colston continues:

“When staff had the opportunity to be involved in public health studies way outside of their experience, they spent hours training before throwing themselves into shift work covering weekends and evenings and in some cases many hours of overtime to support the Novavax vaccine study. Some are still working weekends delivering the vaccine at the Kassam Stadium and other venues.”

The CRF further supported vaccine roll out when it was used as a hub for staff vaccination at the beginning of 2021.

Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre

Like many research centres around the country, over the last year the Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) has played its part in tackling the COVID-19 emergency. BRC researchers have developed a range of projects investigating the mental health impacts of the pandemic and have created freely available resources to support clinicians. These have included:

Full details of these and other COVID related projects can be found on the BRC website.

Alongside their pandemic response BRC colleagues have also continued with non-COVID projects, most notably the opening of the Oxford Brain Health Centre (BHC) in August 2020.

Thanks to the BHC’s dual clinical and research function, along with the remarkable efforts of its staff, it was able go ahead with its planned launch and has subsequently been able to continue its essential public health research without interruption – a real achievement and a lifeline for dementia patients who continue to be able to access the Centre for assessment at this time.

Public Engagement and Involvement

During the pandemic we have also seen growing interest from patients and the public who want to get involved in research at the trust. Claire Murray, Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement Manager says:

“Despite – or maybe because of the pandemic and lockdown – we’ve managed to grow our patient and public involvement in research community over the last year and now have a group of over 60 people who have volunteered to get involved in shaping research at the Trust.”

Find out more about research news from Oxford Health and how you can get involved on the dedicated R&D section of our website.

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Published: 1 April 2021