Q&A: nursing research and the future of healthcare

Q&A: nursing research and the future of healthcare

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the incredible work that nurses do on a daily basis, as well as the research undertaken around the world and the impact this has on health and social care.

This International Nurses’ Day, Dr Cathy Henshall, Reader in the Oxford School of Nursing and Midwifery at Oxford Brookes University, Associate Director of Nursing, National Institute for Health Research Nursing Office, and Head of Research Delivery at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, highlights the work of the Oxford School of Nursing and Midwifery (OSNM) in preparing the next generation of nurses to care for others and to research what matters in delivering high quality patient care.

The OSNM is a partnership between Oxford Brookes University, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust. Nurses and social science researchers work together on issues relating to healthcare delivery and innovative practice. Research in the OSNM covers a wide range of areas including cancer survivorship, workforce development and the wellbeing of children and families.

How did you first get involved in nursing and how did you come to the OSNM?

“I trained as a registered general nurse (adult) at the University of Nottingham and a few years after qualifying I started working as an oncology research nurse. This fuelled my research interest and led to me undertaking a PhD in cancer survivorship and self-management. I came to the OSNM in 2016 and my current clinical academic nursing role is a great example of how the partnership works. It enables me to combine my academic research interests with my clinical ones.”

Why is nursing research so important?

“I think it is really important that research isn't seen as something 'separate' from nursing - it’s an integral part of ensuring that high quality care is provided to patients across the healthcare sector.

“We’ve seen in the last year how critical research is to emerging issues too. I’ve helped the fight against COVID-19, by contributing to the setup and delivery of research studies in vaccinology.

“A nurse-led multi-disciplinary team in the OSNM is also investigating the extent to which student nurses, major contributors to healthcare in COVID, are prepared for their role in the pandemic and beyond. The findings from this COV-ed Nurse study, which receives substantial COVID-19 research funding, will influence healthcare delivery by nurses in the future.”

What role have nurses played in COVID-19 research?

“Nurses have played a number of key roles in COVID-19 research.

“In addition to the COV-ed Nurse study, clinical research delivery nurses worked on urgent COVID-19 clinical research trials, such as the RECOVERY trial identifying treatments for COVID-19 patients and the PRINCIPLE trial to find treatments for older people.

“The highly successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines clinical trials would not have been possible without our highly-skilled clinical research delivery nurses. They’ve screened trial participants to check their eligibility, undertaken clinical assessments, obtained informed consent, randomised participants, administered vaccines, monitored for adverse reactions and collected high quality trial data.

“All these tasks have been delivered at speed, without compromising on quality, helping increase public confidence in the vaccine programmes."

How are student nurses supporting research?

“The COV-ed nurse study involves 130 student nurses from all four nations of the UK keeping diaries of their experiences in COVID-19 and being interviewed. They also sit on the study Advisory Group, guiding recruitment and informing data analysis.

“And our student nurses have had a direct role in a vaccine trial. At the end of 2020 I approached our student nurses to see if they would be willing to support Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust to deliver Novavax, one of the urgent COVID-19 vaccines trials. The response we received was phenomenal, with over 80 applying to help.

“Now a number of students are working as research assistants on the trial alongside nurses, doctors and clinical research practitioners to help make it a success. They’re working as research assistants, ushers and chaperones for symptomatic participants, and doing the essential administration. They are also getting first hand experience of working on high profile studies within the clinical research setting.”

What nursing research is happening at Oxford Brookes currently?

“We’re involved in a number of studies including work with Blood Cancer UK, looking at the psychological needs of blood cancer patients, a project with Public Health England to examine effective parenting support, and NIHR-funded research developing and testing a nurse-led intervention, to support women with breast cancer to take hormone therapy.

“There’s also the Burdett Trust for Nursing study, which focuses on developing an online support tool to help nurses build personal resilience. It’s vital we protect nurses’ psychological health and wellbeing; there’s no doubt this has been impacted by the pandemic.

“And we’re also involved in a James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnership to gather, rank and prioritise views from people involved in community nursing, including patients, carers and community nurses. This list of research priorities will help develop the future of community nursing research.”

What is your vision for the future of research nursing?

“We want to maximise the opportunities for nurses to become actively involved in, and to lead research.

“With our partners, we’re developing a collaborative Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professional Clinical Academic Pathway across Oxford, allowing nurses to gain access to support and protected time for research, without relinquishing their clinical roles.

“The pandemic has highlighted the crucial contribution that research nurses make to patient care and healthcare outcomes. It’s really important we build on this momentum and raise the profile of nursing research at a national and international level.”