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The power of research to improve patient care

Health professionals and support staff across Cumbria came together last week to celebrate and explore the important role research plays in improving patient care.

Research teams from Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) and North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust (NCUH) hosted a conference at Newton Rigg for over 60 NHS staff and representatives from voluntary organisations. They looked at some of the many research projects taking place in Cumbria which are helping to advance healthcare nationally, and encouraged more clinical staff to get involved.

Across Cumbria health professionals, patients and the public are involved in many large scale international and national research trials and local, Cumbria based projects, both of which contribute to developments in national clinical guidance to improve and optimise patient care. Currently research in Cumbria covers a wide range of specialities including neurology, sexual health, diabetes, mental health and paediatrics at CPFT and oncology, cardiology, orthopaedics and obstetrics and gynaecology at NCUH.

One of the examples shared at the event was a project known as the PrEP Impact Trial which aims to address outstanding questions about PrEP (a HIV prevention medication) eligibility, uptake and duration of use. The results will inform commissioners – those who plan health service – about how to support clinical and cost effective access to the drug in the future. While this is a national study, it is important that research reflects the local population. So in Cumbria the research has a rural context rather than simply applying findings from larger urban areas.

Dr Leon Jonker, Science & Innovation Manager at CPFT, explains: “Clinical research is absolutely critical for us to keep improving patient care. It allows us to discover innovative new treatments and ensure that what we’re doing is really working. There’s lots going on in Cumbria that’s contributing to national developments and the event was a chance to showcase some of that work.

“We also wanted to inspire our clinicians and wider NHS staff to see the value of research and encourage them to think about how they can develop research projects, with input from the Trusts’ research teams. The workshops were well received and we hope to support several teams to develop projects as a result.”

One delegate commented: “I enjoyed listening to how enthusiastic the speakers were, which as a result has enthused me to be more pro-active in research.”

This joint conference comes as the two Trusts continue to work closer together to benefit patients in Cumbria. Anna McSkeane, Research Team Leader at NCUH, said: “The day created a good foundation for collaborative working and the excellent presentations clearly demonstrated that we are already making a difference. The workshops were informative, well facilitated and provided a great opportunity for networking. We need to continue this enthusiasm as we strive to make research an integral part of the patient’s care pathway, ensuring that all eligible patients are given equity and offered opportunities to participate in research.”

Professor John Howarth, Deputy Chief Executive for CPFT and NCUH, added: “It’s fantastic to see so much enthusiasm for research in Cumbria. We aim to continually improve the services we offer and research is one of the key ways to do that. Research projects like these are helping to put Cumbria on the map and make this an attractive place to come and work – widening the opportunities we offer.”

Clinical research is highly regulated and all projects need to undergo a rigorous approval process including a detailed consideration of ethics. Health professionals across Cumbria are encouraged to speak to the research teams to discuss any ideas they have.

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