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Reflections on the first wave: a research midwife’s experience

Published: 17 November 2020

Research Midwife and Midwifery Practice Facilitator Hayley Martin stepped away from the maternity ward during the first peak of the pandemic to join the COVID-19 Research Team at the Princess Royal University Hospital, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Now a principal investigator for a maternity COVID-19 data registry study, Hayley writes about her journey.

Following the World Health Organisation declaring COVID-19 being of pandemic status, I began to hear of staff being redeployed into new clinical areas to support the ever-increasing admission rate. I did not consider myself to be a member of staff who would be redeployed outside of my department. I am a midwife, qualified for just over four years, with no previous nursing experience. I did not think I would be involved in the care of COVID-19 affected individuals unless they also happened to be mothers requiring the maternity department.

But as trials investigating COVID-19 began, late March saw a call for nursing or midwifery staff at our District General Hospital with research recruitment experience to join a new ‘COVID-19 Research Team’. I had commenced a research secondment as one of two CRN Research Delivery midwives in October 2019; the first in this role at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. So, with only six months of research experience and juggling a postgraduate degree, I anxiously agreed. I had never worked on a drug trial or commercial study, nor worked in any other department outside of the bubble of maternity and neonatal care. But I wanted to contribute, to learn and to gain experience.

Incredible teamwork

The COVID-19 Research Team consists of an amalgamation of trial coordinators, research nurses of backgrounds including haematology, oncology and gastroenterology, consultants, middle-grade doctors and data support. We recruited our first participant onto the RECOVERY trial in early April from intensive care. Walking into this unit was a considerable shock to the system. The ward was completely overloaded with bed spaces doubled and nurses caring for multiple patients in what is normally a one-to-one setting.

But despite these challenges, I saw incredible teamwork; Foundation Year 2 (FY2) doctors provided nursing care so the nursing team could have breaks, specialty trainees redeployed but doing an excellent job despite the circumstances, and consultants covering units with capacity over what they’ve ever previously experienced but somehow managing.

I personally found the respiratory high dependency unit the most challenging. These patients were conscious, primarily requiring Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), and they were terrified. I found that the vast majority of patients that I would approach to discuss trials with were desperate, and keen to try anything which may help them. An aspect of research recruitment I found particularly hard was informing participants they had been allocated a best supportive care arm. This information was frequently met with looks of disappointment and apprehension. Fortunately, both my research and midwifery colleagues were a great listening ear when I found situations particularly emotionally challenging.

An invaluable experience

My experience of redeployment to the COVID-19 research team has been invaluable, despite its challenges. Every member of the team from management to the data coordinators were incredibly supportive. They always ensured I felt confident and was fully trained in the trials we were recruiting to, taught me how to centrifuge blood samples, and I was never alone when attending the ICU to administer intravenous infusions through lines I had never dealt with before as a midwife. I sincerely hope to collaborate in the future.

After several months, I returned to midwifery-led research to be a principal investigator for a maternity COVID-19 data registry study with close support from my manager, 70@70 Senior Midwifery Researcher Katherine Clark. I would never have had lots of these opportunities if it weren’t for this pandemic, which feels awful to say. But it has created an immeasurable increase in the positive culture of nurses and midwives participating in and leading research, adding to Katherine’s work and pushing the 70@70 agenda forward in our trust. Research has been catapulted further into the public eye, and the maternity department has seen more research-related conversations than ever before. Both the general public and patients are keen to help and to make a difference in this pandemic. “Whatever I can do to help” is an answer to research invitations I hear often.

I’m extremely proud to be a research midwife during a time where the culture and conversations surrounding research have shifted massively. We never envisaged ‘The Year of the Nurse and Midwife’ to look quite like this, however I believe it has shone a research light onto an aspect of the nursing and midwifery professions which has historically been neglected. The COVID-19 Research Team has demonstrated how different specialities and backgrounds can collaborate to achieve a common goal. I can’t wait to see midwifery-led research grow further, and am hopeful that a permanent and larger midwifery research team may be established in the future at the trust. 

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