A dedicated research unit has been opened at Wrightington Hospital for patients taking part in clinical trials.
With more people getting involved in research, Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust wanted to have a specialised area where they could be seen.
A total of 2,420 patients were recruited to National Institute for Health Research studies in the borough in 2018-19, compared to just 19 in 2010-11.
Research is an everyday part of work done in the NHS with the aim of finding better ways of looking after patients, helping them to recover more quickly and keeping people healthy.
By taking part in a clinical trial or research, people can play a more active role in their healthcare, gain access to research treatments before they are widely available and help others by contributing to medical research.
The new unit has two rooms - a counselling room where staff can speak to patients and a clinical area.
Senior research nurse Tracey Taylor believes having the separate area will make a big difference for patients.
She said: “Prior to having these two rooms, we spoke to patients in a working clinic, where accommodation is quite short.
“We usually see patients at the end of a clinic, so while a busy clinic is going on. While they are having a hip replacement or knee operation, the appointment is quite in-depth so to mention doing a clinical trial at the end of that is quite a lot to take in.
“This takes them out of the clinical environment, puts them in an area where we can speak to them about a research clinic and tell them more about it.”
The number of people taking part in research has grown as the trust expands into different areas.
Mrs Taylor said: “The team itself has grown massively. Originally, when I first came about eight years ago, we just concentrated on rheumatology and a lot of people think that’s the only research we still do, but we have expanded so much. There are not many areas we are not in.”
The current studies include looking at the longevity of ankle replacements and a global study into nasal polyps.
There is a large oncology team, where work is done in collaboration with The Christie, rather than patients travelling to Manchester.
More than 1,000 year 12 students have been involved in a project looking at immunisation against meningitis B.
Mrs Taylor said: “We have been going into colleges and swabbing students in year 12 to see if they are carrying meningitis B.
“We are going back in September to re-swab the students and see if they are still carrying it.”
The students are offered the vaccine, which is currently available privately but not through the NHS.
While the new unit has opened at Wrightington Hospital, research staff are based across the trust’s site.
A study on the acute wards at Wigan Infirmary looks at skin preparations before surgery, while reproductive health staff are looking at women delivering large babies.
Research is vital for improving healthcare.
Mrs Taylor said: “Without research we wouldn’t be looking at new medical devices, we wouldn’t be looking at new drug treatments.
“Without patients taking part, we wouldn’t get the answers and improve our medical care. We wouldn’t get evidence-based practice and the best treatments, so without research we wouldn’t be able to drive our service and try anything new.
“The research volunteers are imperative.”
There are benefits to the patients involved too.
“Patients have access to new treatments they wouldn’t normally get on the NHS pathway,” Mrs Taylor said.
“For example, some drugs are available in research but not the normal NHS pathway, so we can get them access to these.
“We have the opportunity to give them new devices via the research study.
“For drug treatments, very often there is a financial gain for the trust because sometimes drugs are provided via the research, not via the NHS.”
The new unit was opened by trust chairman Robert Armstrong, who said: “Research has always been undertaken at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh hospitals. In 1960 whilst at Wrightington Hospital, Sir John Charnley researched, piloted and developed the total hip replacement operation.
“Our new dedicated research facility will enable our patients who undergo research activity to get top clinical care whilst undergoing treatment.
“I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to bringing this facility to life. I hope this unit will enhance the care we give to patients and help to improve, through research and clinical trials, the outcomes for many, many people.”
Head of research Chris Birchall said: “I’d like to thank all of the staff that have put a tremendous amount of effort into getting the unit fit for purpose for our patients, with particular thanks going to Tracey Taylor, lead research nurse.
“We are excited that the unit is now officially open and will now enable us to provide a better service to our patients.
“We are very grateful to the trust’s Three Wishes Charity, which kindly funded the purchase of a phlebotomy chair and blood pressure monitor, and also to our estates and facilities colleagues for all of their help in getting the accommodation ready for use.”