Health staff who stepped into research celebrate 10 years of pioneering scheme
Imperial marked the 10th anniversary of an innovative programme to encourage hospital staff to get involved in research at a special event last week.
More than 60 staff from Imperial College London, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and the Royal Brompton NHS Foundation Trust gathered at Imperial’s South Kensington Campus to celebrate the success of the Imperial Research Fellowships programme.
The programme was set up in 2009 and gives all healthcare professionals at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust the opportunity to take a year out of clinical practice and focus on a research project supervised by academics at Imperial College London. Recipients also have the opportunity to develop their research skills and experience so that they can apply for a Masters or PhD and progress in their clinical academic career.
Fighting infection with faecal transplants
Some staff from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust have gone on to become clinical academics lecturing at the College and projects carried out by research fellows have had an impact on clinical care at the Trust.
For example, Dr Ben Mullish, Clinical Research Fellow at the College and Honorary Speciality Registrar in Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, used a procedure called faecal microbiota transplant (FMT) to rebalance patients’ healthy gut bacteria following a severe hospital infection such as C.difficile. Dr Mullish established the FMT programme at St Mary’s Hospital during his fellowship. The hospital is one of only a handful of NHS centres in the UK that regularly carries out the procedure.
Professor Waljit Dhillo, champion of the scheme and NIHR Professor in Endocrinology and Metabolism at Imperial College London, hosted the event. He said:
“The research fellowships programme has been such an important and game-changing initiative. Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in partnership with NIHR Imperial Biomedical Research Centre were the first to implement this type of programme and it has been great to see the development of staff and research projects that have made such a difference to how we deliver patient care. This special event is to celebrate staff past and present who have taken part in the programme and the academics at the College who have helped to supervise their research project. I look forward to building on the work of the programme over the last 10 years so we can get even more staff involved and continue to improve patient care.”
Identifying a rare genetic form of diabetes
At the event, recipients of research fellowships spoke about their projects and the next steps in the careers. Dr Shivani Misra, Consultant in Metabolic Medicine at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and an Honorary Research Fellow at Imperial College London, discussed her project leading the MY Diabetes study.
She looked at maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY), a rare type of diabetes which affects only 20,000 to 40,000 people in the UK. Her work showed that cases are often missed in south Asian and African-Caribbean people, being mistakenly diagnosed as the more common type 1 or type 2 forms, leading to patients receiving inappropriate or even ineffective treatment.
Dr Misra outlined how the programme led to her setting up a special genetic diabetes service at St Mary’s Hospital where cases of MODY are being identified more accurately. She also explained how the fellowships has helped her develop as a researcher. Dr Misra was named as one as one of London’s leading health influencers by the Evening Standard in 2018.
Dr Misra said: “I’m so grateful to Imperial Health Charity for funding the first year of my research journey, which enabled me to generate some pilot data. If it wasn’t for that initial support, the MY DIABETES study would have never happened. I really believe that the programme has helped me to support more patients and put me on the path to becoming a clinical academic.”
Clare Leon-Villapalos, Honorary Clinical Research Fellow at Imperial College London and Clinical practice Educator in Critical Care at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, spoke about her research looking into the ways in which staffing levels and workload impact quality of care for staff working in critical care units.
“When I first thought about being a researcher I didn’t picture it was someone like me – a nurse. This programme has enabled me to really focus on my research and has provided a vital stepping stone in my clinical academic career. The support of my supervisors at Imperial College London has been fantastic and I’ve really grown as a researcher. My future plans is to build on the pre-doctoral fellowship and apply for a NIHR clinical academic phD.”
Professor Mary Wells, Lead Nurse for Research at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Professor of Practice (Cancer Nursing) at Imperial College London, closed the event and outlined to guests the importance of the programme, why it needs to continue and how it helps to foster a culture of research collaboration at the Trust.
“This event has been really inspiring and it’s been wonderful to hear about the projects carried out by staff and their impact on patient care and service development. This programme is a vital initiative in terms of the ways we support staff into research. It’s also important that we encourage a broader range of staff such as nurses to do research and the programme has shown what can be achieved when we offer these opportunities to our talented and hardworking staff.”