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Super-team is ‘driving force behind COVID research success’ at Leicester’s Hospitals


Leicester’s Hospitals is marking a year since its first patient was recruited to a COVID-19 study on Friday 12 March by highlighting the work of the ‘driving force’ behind its nationally-acclaimed research success. 

In the past 12 months, more than 200 research nurses, midwives, allied health professionals and support staff have joined together to deliver COVID-19 research in clinics, wards and intensive care units across the Trust. They have recruited and looked after more than 27,000 volunteers, patients and healthcare professionals to better understand, prevent, manage and treat the disease. 

Rachael Phillips is a research nurse based at Leicester Royal Infirmary. She has been working on a number of trials, including RECOVERY, which is testing potential treatments for patients hospitalised with COVID-19. Leicester uses a ‘seek and search’ model, which electronically tracks patients admitted with COVID-19 and assesses their suitability for the studies, before the team finds them on the wards to offer them the opportunity to take part in research. 

The model has helped the Trust become the UK’s highest recruiter to RECOVERY, and was held up as an example of best practice in the NHS Getting It Right First Time guidance on managing COVID-19 in hospital settings.

Rachael said: “By organising and streamlining our recruitment we have managed to reach a high number of suitable participants, which in turn has resulted in treatments now being made part of standard of care. It is always in the forefront of my mind that the work we do will achieve better outcomes for the patients we care for, and for future healthcare.”

Mary Harrison is a researcher at Leicester Diabetes Centre, with a background in intensive care nursing. At the beginning of the pandemic, Mary was redeployed to work in ICU at Glenfield. ICU nurses have played a vital role in supporting research teams to deliver COVID studies by identifying suitable patients, taking samples and observing patients for early signs of adverse reactions. For Mary, seeing new treatments first trialled and then being approved for use was very satisfying. 

She said: “Having new treatments through research means we now have a more robust package of care we can offer to our patients with COVID.” 

Mary has also been supporting the research team delivering the ENSEMBLE2 vaccine trial at the NIHR Patient Recruitment Centre: Leicester, which is based at Leicester’s Hospitals. She is part of the “unblinded nurse” team, meaning she draws up the vaccine or placebo and gives it to the “blinded nurses” so they, and the patient, don’t know what treatment the patient is to receive.

Mary said: “Having seen the devastating consequences this virus has for people on ICU it feels extremely satisfying to spend time working on the vaccine trial. Trials like this will save lives and help us all to be together again soon.”

Antonella Ghezzi, Head of Research Nursing and Midwifery at Leicester’s Hospitals, said: “Research nurses, midwives, allied health professionals and support staff have been the driving force behind COVID research success and made a significant difference to patient outcomes over the past year. I want to say a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have demonstrated no matter how big and demanding the task is, if we support each other, anything can be achieved. I am so proud of every one of you. You have shown that research saves lives.”

Leicester’s Research highlights include*: 

  • Total recruitment to COVID studies from 12.03.21 to 10.03.21 = 27,128
  • Number of COVID studies = 34
  • UK’s top recruiting Trust to RECOVERY trial (1340 participants)
  • Lead for PHOSP-COVID, £8.4million grant to investigate the longer term effects of COVID on hospitalised patients
  • Lead for UK-REACH, £1.4million grant to investigate the effects of COVID-19 on healthcare workers from ethnic minority backgrounds
  • Third in the world for recruitment to the ENSEMBLE2 COVID vaccine trial (593 participants)
  • 770 staff members are participating in SIREN – Public Health England’s study to track COVID immune response over time in healthcare workers
  • Getting It Right First Time: Clinical practice guide for improving the management of adult COVID-19 patients in secondary care’ (GIRFT report) is guidance produced by the NHS to share learning from the best performing trusts during the pandemic. Leicester’s Hospitals is one of six trusts highlighted in the report.


*Figures correct as of 10 March 2021


For more information: Rachael Dowling, Head of Research Communications, rachael.dowling@uhl-tr.nhs.uk