Nursing research and the future of healthcare – Q&A with Dr Cathy Henshall

This International Nurses’ Day, Dr Cathy Henshall, Head of Research Delivery at Oxford Health and Reader in the Oxford School of Nursing and Midwifery (OSNM), talks about preparing the next generation of nurses for roles in patient care and research.

Nursing research and the future of healthcare – Q&A with Dr Cathy Henshall

The OSNM is a partnership between Oxford Brookes University, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Nurses and social science researchers work together on issues relating to healthcare delivery and innovative practice.

Q. How did you first get involved in nursing and how did you come to the OSNM?

A. I trained as a registered general nurse (adult) at the University of Nottingham and a few years after qualifying I started working as an oncology research nurse. This fueled my research interest and led to me undertaking a PhD in cancer survivorship and self-management. I came to the OSNM in 2016 and my current clinical academic nursing role is a great example of how the partnership works. It enables me to combine my academic research interests with my clinical ones.

Q. Why is nursing research so important?

A. I think it is really important that research isn’t seen as something ‘separate’ from nursing – it’s an integral part of ensuring that high quality care is provided to patients across the healthcare sector.

We’ve seen in the last year how critical research is to emerging issues too. I’ve helped the fight against COVID-19, by contributing to the setup and delivery of research studies in vaccinology.

A nurse-led multi-disciplinary team in the OSNM is also investigating the extent to which student nurses, major contributors to healthcare in COVID, are prepared for their role in the pandemic and beyond. The findings from this COV-ed Nurse study, which receives substantial COVID-19 research funding, will influence healthcare delivery by nurses in the future.

Q. What role have nurses played in COVID-19 research?

A. Nurses have played a number of key roles in COVID-19 research.

In addition to the COV-ed Nurse study, clinical research delivery nurses worked on urgent COVID-19 clinical research trials, such as the RECOVERY trial identifying treatments for COVID-19 patients and the PRINCIPLE trial to find treatments for older people.

The highly successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines clinical trials would not have been possible without our highly-skilled clinical research delivery nurses. They’ve screened trial participants to check their eligibility, undertaken clinical assessments, obtained informed consent, randomised participants, administered vaccines, monitored for adverse reactions and collected high quality trial data.

All these tasks have been delivered at speed, without compromising on quality, helping increase public confidence in the vaccine programmes.

Q. How are student nurses supporting research?

A. The COV-ed nurse study involves 130 student nurses from all four nations of the UK keeping diaries of their experiences in COVID-19 and being interviewed. They also sit on the study Advisory Group, guiding recruitment and informing data analysis.

And our student nurses have had a direct role in a vaccine trial. At the end of 2020 I approached our student nurses to see if they would be willing to support Oxford Health to deliver Novavax, one of the urgent COVID-19 vaccines trials. The response we received was phenomenal, with over 80 applying to help.

Now a number of students are working as research assistants on the trial alongside nurses, doctors and clinical research practitioners to help make it a success. They’re working as research assistants, ushers and chaperones for symptomatic participants, and doing the essential administration. They are also getting first hand experience of working on high profile studies within the clinical research setting.

Q. What is your vision for the future of research nursing?

Dr Cathy Henshall

A. We want to maximise the opportunities for nurses to become actively involved in, and to lead research.

With our partners, we’re developing a collaborative Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professional Clinical Academic Pathway across Oxford, allowing nurses to gain access to support and protected time for research, without relinquishing their clinical roles.

The pandemic has highlighted the crucial contribution that research nurses make to patient care and healthcare outcomes. It’s really important we build on this momentum and raise the profile of nursing research at a national and international level.

Dr Cathy Henshall is Head of Research Delivery at Oxford Health and Reader in the Oxford School of Nursing and Midwifery at Oxford Brookes University

This Q&A was first published on Oxford Brookes University website.

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Published: 12 May 2021