How the Pandemic affected us:
COVID-19 has caused disruption nationally and had significant impact locally in Greater Manchester. The first wave caused unprecedented pressure on admissions across all our hospitals resulting in four key consequences:
- A complete change in clinical work patterns such that many staff were redeployed to frontline clinical services.
- Our research operations and support staff were re-focused to support COVID research.
- A number of staff were isolating and/or providing home-schooling and childcare when the schools closed.
The net result was that much of our clinical facing and laboratory based non-COVID work paused in spring/summer 2020 and Urgent Public Health (UPH) studies were prioritised. With subsequent waves of disease in Greater Manchester in late-autumn and post-Christmas, there have been further significant and prolonged pauses in research activities for much of the past 12 months.
For those working on the UPH studies, staff were moved from the comfort of their usual specialty, to work in a disease area that was brand new with a team of people they weren’t familiar with. This was alongside the stresses and anxieties caused by the pandemic outside of work. There was enormous pressure on the team to ensure that very tight timelines were met, and this was coupled with an extremely high volume of work. It also involved dealing with situations and information that was sensitive and in parts distressing for those involved. Despite this, the team rose to the challenge and did so with a very positive attitude.
Though the majority of the BioResource team were moved to support other COVID-related work, some were able to maintain their support for the BioResource, and as a result of this the Manchester-led Immune-Mediated Inflammatory Diseases (IMID) BioResource now has 17 sites up and running, with many of these being in the last two months as things have started to open up again nationally. Our Musculoskeletal team, via the Kellgren Centre at MFT (Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust) , recruited the first patient to the IMID BioResource launched in September 2020. We currently have almost 600 IMID patients recruited with nearly half in our local Manchester area - 228 from the Manchester Royal Infirmary and nine from the newly opened Wythenshawe and Trafford NHS sites, all part of Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
One of the highlights of this period has been seeing how people have supported each other through an uncertain and stressful time, really pulling together to ensure that not only the required tasks were completed, but also the wellbeing of other team members was looked after. A lot of the UPH team hadn’t previously worked together, and this was a new area for everyone, but each team member really embraced the situation and approached it with positivity despite the many challenges imposed.
Reflecting back, everyone involved has enjoyed contributing to the UPH research and it’s great to see encouraging news stories coming from the trials we’ve been involved with.
Looking to the future:
Whilst we are still involved in some of the UPH research studies, we’re now able to look towards reopening the research studies that were paused and working out how these studies can be managed alongside the different ways that clinical services are operating. Restarting recruitment to the BioResource is likely to be a staged approach as we find our feet again, and establish the best way of working with both participants and the clinical teams. It’s important that we learn from the new ways of working we have developed during the pandemic, and carry forwards good practices into the future.
We’re looking forward to linking back in with the specialty areas and teams that were previously supporting the BioResource, and developing new partnerships as we expand the cohorts we’re contributing to.