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Hospital housekeeper encourages colleagues to ‘do their bit’ for COVID-19 research


Over 300 members of staff at Leicester’s Hospitals and Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust have joined a study investigating immune responses to COVID-19 in healthcare workers. The study, named DIRECT, aims to find out whether there are differences in immune responses to COVID-19 infection and vaccination between ethnic groups.

The DIRECT study is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and part of the National Core Studies programme, which is focussed on using health data and research to inform and influence short and long-term responses to COVID-19.

Rhea Tebbutt, a housekeeper at Leicester’s Hospitals, has taken part in the study and explains: 

“I got involved in this study as I was interested in the research behind it and wanted to be part of it to help us understand more about how our immune systems respond to COVID-19 and the vaccine.”

The team is collecting data from healthcare workers and people who work in healthcare settings, including their vaccine status and results of SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests. The study is investigating immune responses to the infection and vaccination by taking blood samples. Differences in immune response may play a role in the different clinical outcomes observed between ethnicities.

 Rhea continues: “I would encourage anyone who is generally interested in research to get involved. We can all do our bit to help us understand more about COVID-19.

“The process is really quick and pain free. My appointment ran smoothly and I was met by lovely staff who explained what they were going to do. They made me feel at ease when taking my blood and explained in full what would happen next.”

Dr Manish Pareek, Associate Clinical Professor in Infectious Diseases at the University of Leicester and Honorary Consultant in Infectious Diseases at Leicester’s Hospitals is the chief investigator of the study. He explains: “With most sectors opening up and life returning to ‘normal’, it is important that we understand if and how ethnicity plays a role in the immune response to both COVID-19 infection and the vaccine. Understanding this will help inform COVID-19 vaccination booster programmes as we move forward. 

“We’re so grateful to Rhea and everyone else who has joined the study so far, however to get the best data and the most accurate results we need people from all ethnic backgrounds, and job roles at Leicester’s Hospitals to join.”

The DIRECT study has now received over £600,000 additional funding, enabling it to run until March 2022. The additional funding will allow further sampling around the planned booster vaccinations as well as a follow-up approximately 12 months after the baseline sample collection. The study will now be able to look at the impact of booster vaccinations on the immune response as well as the duration of immunity to COVID.

DIRECT is part of the broader UK-REACH study, led by researchers at the University of Leicester and Leicester’s Hospitals, and supported by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) – a partnership between Leicester’s Hospitals, the University of Leicester and Loughborough University. The UK-REACH study was awarded £2.1 million by UKRI and NIHR to investigate how and why ethnicity affects COVID-19 clinical outcomes in healthcare workers. 

The DIRECT study is still recruiting staff from Leicester’s Hospitals and Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust. Anyone employed by the trusts can take part, regardless of ethnicity or whether they intend to receive a COVID vaccine (including booster vaccination). Find out more: https://direct.uk-reach.org 

There are more opportunities to take part throughout the year. Members of the public can sign up to Leicester’s Research Registry to receive regular email updates. Visit the website to join: www.leicestershospitals.nhs.uk/researchregistry 


Rachael Dowling, head of research communications, researchcomm@uhl-tr.nhs.uk