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National recognition shines light on research achievements

A member of the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (WSFT) research team has been recognised for her work with a prestigious national award from the Academy of Healthcare Science (AHCS). On International Clinical Trials Day (20 May 2022), her work highlights all the research undertaken by the Trust for the benefit of current and future generations.

Angharad Williams, who has a degree in bioscience and other qualifications as well as clinical training, has been named the recipient of the 2022 Advancing Healthcare Awards for Clinical Research Practitioner (CRP) Leadership.

Research is a national priority for the NHS, with CRPs in its organisations providing more than a quarter of the research workforce. The pandemic has made the contribution of NHS-based researchers ever more important, and the WSFT research team is involved in more than 40 national and global research projects, having recruited more than 2,000 patients in 2021. This year many COVID-19 studies are closing, so the scope for the research team is changing, but already in 2022 more than 700 people have been recruited to take part in studies.

Clinical research practitioners such as Angharad are members of the allied health professional (AHP) workforce, undertaking research as well as clinical practice. Angharad won the AHCS award in recognition for her work developing a regional network and national work to develop approved accreditation scheme and register for CRPs.

Angharad said: “The eastern region committee of the National Institute of Health and Care Research Clinical Research Network, which includes parts of London, has become a network for research specialists whatever their background. For the accreditation scheme, CRPs have to achieve a set of standards and proficiency so they can work to agreed standards and levels of qualifications and experience.”

As a CRP, Angharad is involved in recruiting and following up with patients for device and drug trials, as well as gathering evidence on follow-up treatment and therapies. “Nephrology is my main focus of my work, mostly with Dr Will Petchey. One area I am involved with is trialling online education for kidney patients, because more and more we are finding that education and self-care have such a beneficial impact on people’s recovery.”

Angharad is also involved with recruiting patients for the international RECOVERY (Randomised Evaluation of Covid-19 Therapy) trial which is identifying treatments for people hospitalised with COVID-19. The trial has 195 active sites and over 47,000 participants worldwide, and in November 2021 the WSFT was named as the top national recruiting site for two consecutive weeks. A key finding has been that repurposed drugs, such as the widely-available and low-cost steroid dexamethasone, reduces death by up to one third in patients with severe respiratory complications.

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust research and development manager Paul Oats said: “Trusts with active research teams have better patient outcomes, which is very satisfying for the staff. It is part of our daily routine. As a comparatively small team of 10 research nurses and CRPs, who work with the clinical teams, we look at studies that fit with our local population and what clinical teams are seeing in the hospital. These bring the biggest impact and benefit we can achieve for our community. At the same time our work fits in with the national agenda, there is a drive for this to be developed.

The WSFT is one of 50 healthcare sites nationwide involved in the SIREN study since the summer of 2020. About 550 staff joined the study, which looks at infection and re-infection rates in healthcare workers, signing up to have a PCR test every two weeks, and a monthly blood test for antibodies.

Paul said: “This has demanded an 18-month commitment from colleagues, as well as practical support from teams such as IT and pharmacy, and shows we have a positive research culture. This has been a truly combined effort, with many people contributing who don’t even realise they are part of it.”

Paul said: “During the pandemic researchers have been focused on testing, sequencing and modelling on the severity of variants, and of course we have one of the best vaccine and booster programmes. We now have repurposed drugs and antivirals that we can use to treat ill, or vulnerable people.”

Consultant oncologist, Margaret Moody, said: “Our staff were highly enthusiastic about the SIREN study and signed up in large numbers with everyone seeing the importance of the project.

“We are delighted that Angharad has been recognised with this well-deserved award and we are very proud of her.”

Angharad said: “Research used to be seen as an optional extra, but now it is mandatory for NHS trusts. I am pleased to say the WSFT is good at supporting research work, we deliver great trials, and our team is increasingly becoming integrated into the wider Trust. My manager Lisa Wood is a driving force in enabling that to happen.”

Angharad has recently been trained as an official monitor for Oxford University, which approached her to be an external invigilator for its research trials.

Lead research nurse/stroke research specialist Lisa Wood said: “Angharad is a huge asset to the team and we are very proud of her for this amazing achievement.”

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Angharad Williams, clinical research practitioner

Angharad Williams, clinical research practitioner