How the Pandemic affected us:
We were notified to stop recruiting to the BioResource at the start of lockdown for safety reasons. Our staff were moved onto working on various research projects to do with finding out how COVID-19 affects people, and how it might be better treated. This was a very stressful time for our Leeds team. We had to work on a different project to the one we had prepared for. We went onto COVID wards and had to accept the risk of getting the virus (even though we did everything we could to lower it). Some of our team couldn’t go onto the COVID wards for their own health reasons (e.g. asthma) so had to work from home, isolated from co-workers.
In October and November 2020, we were also asked to work on a Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial that was taking place in Leeds – our role was to contact people to arrange times for them to receive their jab, and to work at the trial centre once these appointments began. We set up an effective system to manage these bookings, and with over 800 recruits, we achieved the highest number of recruits of any hospital Trust in the country. As a result, we learned that we can work well and help others while working in challenging and unexpected conditions.
Looking to the future:
In March this year, with COVID-19 case numbers falling, we were able to start recruiting to the BioResource again. However, we had to change the way we had previously approached people to take part. Before, we would recruit by going into clinics for certain diseases at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals and ask the patients there if they were happy to join BioResource and give us a blood sample, but we were not able to do this because most of these clinics were now taking place over the internet, via Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
Instead, we secured hospital space at Leeds General Infirmary, Chapel Allerton Hospital and Seacroft Hospital and sent invitation letters to people with Immune-Mediated Inflammatory Diseases (IMID, e.g. arthritis, psoriasis and lupus) and rare diseases, asking if they would like to come in to take part in the BioResource. We have also been able to attend some of the clinics that are taking place face-to-face.
By working in this way, and thanks to the hard work of our team and the helpfulness of our patients, we have been able to recruit up to 25 people a week. We also welcomed our first participants in two Rare Diseases we had not managed to recruit to before the pandemic (i.e. Oculocutaneous albinism and Turner’s syndrome). In the future, we are hoping to recruit our first participant in more Rare Diseases, and to highlight our centre and research to more Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) groups.