Next steps for COVID jabs and maternity trials set to get underway at Leeds hospitals

From staff nurses to researchers to experts in infectious diseases, staff at hospitals across Leeds have shared their stories of living and working with coronavirus over the last year.

Friday, 26th March 2021, 6:00 am

This week saw the anniversary of the first national lockdown which was imposed on March 23 in 2020.

At the time the city's medical experts knew little about the virus and how it would sweep the nation as well as the knock on effects that would follow.

Fighting COVID and seeking ways to overcome it went from being a sprint to a marathon says one nurse as the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust revealed to the Yorkshire Evening Post that 4264 COVID-19 positive patients have been treated in the city, 34 litres of vaccine have been used and in less than a year, 46 research studies, with 2,762 participants have been conducted in trying to find treatments.

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Jamie Calderwood is a research nurse.

Dr Penny Lewthwaite, is a consultant in infectious diseases. She said: "As soon as we knew what COVID-19 was and how we needed to tackle it, there was no question. Everyone stepped up to help, pull out all the stops and muck in.

"It has been a real educational process. The knowledge we have gained about this virus and its evolution is remarkable in such a short space of time. And this is not made any easier by the situation changing so quickly - we’ve had to change our approach to this so many times, challenge our initial theories about the virus as the evidence and our knowledge of it has grown.

Research has been a big part of the COVID-19 response at LTHT. Leeds has been at the forefront of the learning, the evidence base and the science behind what we have learnt about this virus and how we tackle it.

It’s been a difficult year for everyone. We can’t compare where we are now based on this time last year because we just didn’t have the infrastructure in place to test everyone or understand what we do now about this virus and how it works.

One of many training sessions held among staff at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust.

We need to keep infection prevention at the forefront of our minds. We need to remember to wash our hands, and keep our distance where possible. I know that’s not particularly exciting or fun when you want to see family or book a holiday or plan a get together but it’s the only thing that works. And we all want to get back to normal."

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He said: "Back in April I started to feel the pandemic was very real. We were hearing more and more reports about people from BAME communities being at high risk and I became very stressed about this. My thoughts were cloudy for a time as I didn’t want to fall ill, or put others at risk. My practical nursing training kicked in and I knew that I had to make an effort to look after myself, so I worked hard to lose weight and eat and drink better, knowing that this pandemic was not just affecting me, but many others too. I wanted to take some responsibility for my own health, so that I could continue to care and support others.

"I work as a nurse in cardiac neuro outpatients at the LGI and I am a peer flu vaccinator for the Trust. I put myself forward to be a part of the vaccination programme and I was redeployed to the vaccination centres in January, where I have remained since. There is an incredible positivity and atmosphere working in the vaccination centre, a sense that we are all working towards the same cause. It’s hard to describe. Some of the stories we hear are heartbreaking and you can see the visible relief in people’s faces as they leave us. My natural instinct means that I want to give people a hug and it has been very difficult to be non-contact. Vaccinating is that one step closer to being a proper nurse again.

"I take my role as a peer vaccinating very seriously and I have been working hard to promote the safety of the vaccine to BAME communities, engaging with the local mosques and making sure people have the right information. Getting vaccinated is vital to ensuring that we can return to our normal lives."

Jamie Calderwood is a research nurse.

He recalls: "In March 2020 I was asked to lead a Research Nurse team tasked to deliver clinical trials for COVID-19 treatments. We worked long days and it was a challenging time for me and the team.

"I met many patients and some were extremely ill in intensive care. Initially, the research team were the only ones able to offer treatments for COVID. We tried to visit as many patients as we could each day, which is why we worked long hours. It was incredible to see patients improve as a direct result of our work. It showed the rapid deployment of treatments into standard care was real world research.

"When cases reduced because of the national lock down I was asked to be part of the team setting up vaccine trials. This is now my full-time job. In October 2020 trials of a new COVID-19 vaccine developed by Novavax started in Leeds. In just four weeks my team met over 1000 people who volunteered to be trial participants. This was one of the largest groups of trial volunteers for Novavax in the country.

"The team faced challenges in managing so many participants through a complex trial. An amazing team effort and incredible hard work meant we completed first and second vaccinations and 35 day follow-ups before Christmas 2020. We then started planning three month follow-ups, scheduled to begin at the end of January. We’ve just completed these with every participant. Our work went from a sprint to a marathon and I was so proud to be part of the team.

"We’re now sprinting again, as work is now underway on a cross over study for the Novavax trial. Participants are being invited to receive the opposite treatment to the one they received back in 2020. We’re working with many organisations across Leeds to deliver this study.

"People who took part in clinical trials showed real commitment, and we are asking more of them now. I’m grateful to everyone who gave their time to be part of these trials. Our team met people who were on furlough. In their words, it was “a way of giving something back." Next steps for vaccines are being taken and Maternity Vaccine Trials will start this year. This will take a huge team effort to safely run trials. We are working with Research Midwives to provide expertise alongside them will be Research Nurses and specially trained Clinical Trials Assistants."