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As routine clinical practice resumes, teams across the NHS are preparing to adapt to the new normal after a global pandemic. With research units working hard to assess the impact of Covid-19, they continue to adapt and develop new ways of producing high-quality evidence.
Over the past decade the specialty ‘research nursing’ has grown rapidly and is now supported by the publication of the Clinical Research Nursing Strategy. Designed to develop leaders and support awareness of the field, this continued progression has led to a cohort of skilled nurses that were able to adapt to the research demands of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nurses have made considerable contributions to lead and deliver research throughout the pandemic and with the public as engaged as ever, now is a perfect opportunity to further a strong research culture across the profession.
Due to patient care becoming increasingly complex, the need for research opportunities accessible to all healthcare staff has become widely noted. Unfortunately, despite a strong workforce of research nurses across the NHS, as a profession, we are often underrepresented throughout the field.
Across the UK, funding schemes open to all allied health professionals have found that nurses are less successful than other professionals in gaining awards.
This is evident when looking at the professions of clinicians funded for personal research awards by the National Institute for Health Research, where currently only 9% are nurses. As a result, nurses are often limited to the role of research delivery and lack opportunities to champion nursing research priories.
Throughout my career in research, I have experienced the lack of nursing representation across teams, and despite our contribution during the pandemic I recently found myself being the only nurse in attendance at a post-Covid-19 departmental research meeting, attended by over 30 colleges.
The pandemic has shown us that we must continue to expand research capacity across the NHS and although the lack of nursing representation is disheartening, there is plenty we can do to promote a strong research culture across the field.
Engaging junior nurses to be research active is a key way to ensure we develop a workforce equipped with the necessary skills to deliver high-quality evidence-based practice. This can be done simply by championing local initiatives, such as participation in quality improvement (QI) projects.
Although QI is not classed as official research it allows clinicians to think of an area in need, review the literature, and develop a project to improve their clinical setting.
As a result of Covid-19, we are re-designing services, allowing us to provide essential care in the safest way possible. While this is an enormous challenge, it is the perfect opportunity for frontline staff to experience the research process and help evaluate care in their area.
With the way we deliver care rapidly evolving, the redeployment of nursing staff has been overwhelming for many, including myself.
Being redeployed to a clinical setting allowed me to champion the importance of research engagement and address misconceptions around working as a research nurse.
Breaking the boundaries of a traditional ward team has had a profound effect on the exposure of research staff and highlighted the desperate need for more integrated work roles were nurses can work clinically and academically.
Moving on from the pandemic, it is inevitable that research will continue to be a priority in healthcare and nurses must be equipped with the skills to be research active clinicians.
Layla Bolton is pre doctoral clinical fellow and clinical research nurse, Vascular Surgery Research Department, Imperial College Heathcare NHS Trust