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A baptism of fire - new job, new city and a pandemic

It is a tired trope now to talk about the ‘new normal’ but for me, the change happened shortly after I’d moved from Scotland to London. It was only a few weeks into my role as the newest member of the RM&G team for the JRO, when we were asked to prepare to work from home for the foreseeable future.

In hindsight you could call it a baptism of fire, but armed with the knowledge of the new systems and a fresh introduction to the department, along with the team I was set free in to the world of video meetings; shared cloud drives; camaraderie over WhatsApp, and the kitchen table to replace the office. 

When the option to join the UCLH COVID-19 research delivery team arose, I knew that it provided an opportunity to help shape the national response. Along with several others in the team, we joined, and made a commitment to establish new studies in a matter of days rather than the usual time frame of weeks. 

The disruption to the NHS has been well documented globally in column inches and thought pieces. As a function, we’re all hyper aware of how normal clinical activity was disrupted as hospitals put in place emergency infection control and halted non-life critical research. The team’s scientific, ethical and regulatory review process had changed in scope as COVID-19 research was prioritised, and working hours expanded to facilitate the scale of this new focus. 

As hospitals mitigated infection risk, we saw the creation of new funding streams and regulatory processes that facilitated this new focus on the pandemic. Our team have had to step up to become part of study teams themselves and our usual advisory role flexed to an increasingly hands on approach.

It has been through the delivery team that I’ve been directly involved in studies ranging from research into the microstructural changes in the lungs; to the effects on the hospital front line staff; to the wider impact on patients undergoing treatment in other subspecialties; and even a number of new diagnostic device developments. 

I won’t lie and say this hasn’t been a challenge, but it is incredibly rewarding and has meant I’ve had to work fast to get up to speed with the current research in many areas. It is also a stark contrast to my PhD research, which by virtue exists within a niche, but thankfully complemented my wider experience in the Health Service and time spent teaching biomedical undergraduates. While the research to understand and treat the virus continues to cross our desks, wider clinical care is returning to a more routine service. We are now tackling the reopening of the studies which had to pause during the disruption – no mean feat at just shy of 1000!

For me, like for most of us, it has been an interesting few months! I’d the trifecta of moving into a new home in a new city; starting a new role,  and adapting to the whims of a pandemic. However, to have had the chance to contribute in a way that lends itself to the evolution of UCLH into a flagship national research hospital, is something I’m really grateful for. It also wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my colleagues and I’m proud of how we have pulled together to support each other and process a mountain of meticulous work in tight and trying circumstances.


Maurice Griffin is Sponsorship Officer in the Joint Research Office at UCLH