Coffee break with Claire Leathem

21st September 2021
Claire Leathem Coffee Breaks
What do you do and why do you do it?

I am a Research Nurse/Manager and Co Clinical Lead of the Northern Ireland Clinical Research Network (NICRN) Primary Care. I have worked in primary care research for many years and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be involved in research in the community setting which has allowed me to work with a very wide variety of researchers and practice staff and patients.

The studies in our ‘portfolio’ encompass all kinds of research involvement from asking patients to complete a one-off survey or considering making a short-term lifestyle change through to finding new drug treatments.

My current role includes both clinical work with research participants and also recruiting, training and assisting general practice staff in Northern Ireland to participate in primary care research studies. I am responsible for recruiting practices from all over Northern Ireland for academic, charity funded and pharmaceutical research studies. This involves both practices who are new to research and those with varying degrees of experience. I manage a small team of excellent research nurses and our aim is to ensure that people in Northern Ireland are given the opportunity to hear about and should they wish to do so – participate in research via their GP surgery. The studies can be local, national or international and the contribution practices and their patients make to our knowledge base is absolutely invaluable.

How do patients benefit from what you do?

Patients benefit from research in a number of ways, much of the research we are involved in looks at finding treatments that will work better for patients or aid the detection and diagnosis of diseases and health problems.

The best way to compare different approaches to preventing and treating illness and health problems are by running clinical research studies.

My role is to ensure that patients are given all the information they need in order to make an informed decision as to whether or not this is something they would like to do. I support patients to decline or withdraw from the research in the same way that I would support them to take part or continue should they wish.

Tell us about a typical day at work?

The days are vary varied which is what I love about my job.

We usually start with a brief team meeting which one of the nurse’s calls morning coffee club, although we may be drinking this together via video! This is to set us up for the day ahead and may be just checking in to see all is well or we may have issues to discuss with challenges to overcome.

Part of my responsibility is to be an information resource for researchers and so I receive calls from researchers asking for advice on all aspects of research in primary care from study design to gaining approvals. We hold a portfolio of studies and on any given day can be visiting practices (we cover all of Northern Ireland not just Belfast) to talk about a new study, collecting data, posting out study questionnaires, seeing patients to take physical measurements or obtain study samples or entering study data which will be sent for analysis.

I am also involved in supporting, assisting, training and advising practices as they participate in research to ensure both practice staff and their patients have a positive and rewarding experience. Recently we have worked on studies looking at care planning for the frail elderly and one looking at how GP’s and their pharmacists can improve care for patients taking multiple medications by planned collaborative medication reviews. We have of course been involved in Covid-19 studies as treatments are sought in the community which will help to keep patients from requiring hospital admission.

Tell us about the satisfaction you get from your job?

I have loved every aspect of the job, especially the privilege of meeting and working with all the patients who decided to participate in research. Before a patient is contacted about a study it has gone through a very strict set of rules and regulations to ensure that every aspect of the study has been considered and it meets every standard of high quality and safety. We undertake studies that are suitable for primary care in NI and I believe that whether the study be local or international, NI patients are having a voice in that study which gives me the greatest of satisfaction.  I also like nothing better than to talk with researchers about the research they are planning and provide them with information that I hope will facilitate them as they go through all the long and demanding processes necessary.