Spotlight interview - Ben Hood, Research Nurse

09 Dec 2020
We caught up with Ben Hood, CRUK Senior Research Nurse at Newcastle ECMC, to hear about his recent win at the RCNi Nurse Awards and all the amazing work he has been doing in Newcastle. He talks about the impact of COVID-19 on his role and the work being done to ensure patients are still able to take part in early phase trials. 
Congratulations on winning the Excellence in Cancer Research Nursing category of 2020’s RCNi Nurse Awards; please could you explain more about the project you won the award for?
Clinical research nurses are at the forefront of life-saving cancer research, playing a vital role in running cancer clinical trials and caring for the patients on them. However, the ECMC Research Nurse Steering Group was concerned about the lack of awareness of the role of clinical research nurses among undergraduate nurses and the effect of this on the delivery of cancer research in clinical trials and, consequently, on patient outcomes.
I developed and piloted an educational project to dispel misconceptions and demystify the role of research nurses running cancer clinical trials. Since the pilot, I’ve seen a significant impact on nursing students’ understanding and appreciation of research nursing being predominantly a clinical role, as well as an increasing interest in research nursing being a potential career path.
The educational sessions have so far reached over 2,000 student nurses in north-east England and Scotland, and there are plans to develop the content from the sessions into e-learning resources in partnership with the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). It is hoped that this will continue to have a positive impact on recruitment to clinical research nursing posts, and support cancer clinical trial development.
How does it feel to win this award?
It was obviously great to win the award but the ceremony itself was a bit strange. I was nominated last year and went to London for the ceremony where I met the Queen of Dragons herself, Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones. However, this year I needed to bribe my daughters to be allowed to use the TV to watch the ceremony on YouTube. I was over the moon to win and just had a moment to soak in the victory before having to give back control of the TV to my daughters! 
Professionally, it was great to be able to raise the profile of the work we are doing in Newcastle. There’s now an interest in rolling out this project to other areas such as Canterbury and local universities.
Why did you decide to become a research nurse?
Initially, I found myself working in a research nurse role by accident when I wanted to move back into nursing after some time away. I didn’t know what research nursing was when I applied – which shows how important the educational project I’ve mentioned is – but it worked out well. As a nurse cancer care and oncology was always an area of care I enjoyed the most and in terms of a research area, was where I had always wanted to work.
What’s the most rewarding part of being a research nurse?
Working at the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Centre, I’m able to support patients through their cancer journey, which can be very stressful and emotional, especially for those on early phase cancer trials. I meet fantastic people who are taking part in these trials for altruistic reasons – they know the treatments may not benefit them but they want to contribute to finding a future cure for their cancer. Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) is a massive part of my role and it’s rewarding to involve cancer survivors and their families in refining the cancer service and ensuring that the patient voice is part of it.
What’s the most challenging part of your role?
Last year, I would have given a very different answer but this year I’d say COVID-19. We’ve had to completely change and evolve our PPI activity to a virtual environment. There’s been a learning curve both for me and the people on our PPI group, many of whom were not familiar with Zoom or social media before the pandemic. 
We’ve also had to change our practices to ensure we are still able to support patients coming into our unit to take part in early phase cancer trials. We’ve looked at how we can reduce the number of visits and link up with primary care so that bloods can be taken by District Nurses. Whilst managing the new rules during this challenging time, our Unit has been able to keep all existing early phase trials open. We have found work-arounds but it is harder to engage with patients either via video calls or even when you’re in the same room while wearing a mask and visor, and keeping your distance.
You are one of Cancer Research UK (CRUK)’s Senior Research Nurses; could you explain more about this role and your experience of being part of this group of nurses?
CRUK’s Senior Research Nurses form a network of nurses across the UK with many of them being part of the ECMC network. A lot of our work is taking CRUK projects and delivering them at a local level. We all have different focuses to our role and are integrated into our local NHS Trust. We often come together as a group to deliver national conferences and training. My focus in this role has been education, engagement and PPI. PPI was new to me when I started this role so it has been a big learning curve but also one of the best aspects of this role. In my role, I can take on innovative projects as CRUK are very supportive of these projects that positively impact cancer care.
How does the ECMC network help people with cancer?
Patients in Newcastle describe early phase research as ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’ and our unit is the tunnel. The Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre is a regional referral centre, meaning that we cover a massive geographical area. It’s fantastic that we have this resource in the North East as we give so many patients access to an ECMC. When they have exceeded their standard of care, there is potential for them to try other treatment options. On a bigger scale, ECMCs are essential for developing new cancer treatments for the future.
What other projects have you been/are you working on and how do they support the work of clinical research nurses? 
I’d like to mention two projects:
  • E-Consent: At the start of the first lockdown in March, we needed to innovate our patient visits process to reduce the time they needed to be in the clinic. We recognised that some patients who didn’t need to give blood samples were just coming in to give consent for access to their tumour blocks. We felt that in the current circumstances we could do better and take this process virtually.
    We co-designed the project with our PPI group, and after conducting legal checks with the HRA, involving an ethics committee member in the project, and doing 4 test-runs, we developed an e-consent process. Using a presentation as a visual aid, we have an initial discussion with the patient about how the system will work during a virtual meeting before talking through the consent process. Then, by sharing screens and using Adobe Sign, we watch each other sign the consent forms. This method also allows family members to be part of the content process and ask questions that may have been missed by the patient.
    We hope that e-consent can continue and be integrated in the normal process moving forwards – with family members joining virtually. We’ve received approval to use it in one of our translational studies (Medallion) and we’re keen to develop it in CTIMPs.
  • My doctorate project: Working with our PPI Group and speaking to current clinical trial patients, we realised the gap in education for patients when they are initially referred for an early phase trial. I set-up focus groups and developed some educational resources (booklet and website) with all the information that the patients would have wanted to know about. The pilot of this project showed that this had a positive impact on their stress and anxiety levels. I’m now focusing on going out to the regional sites that refer into our unit to make sure that patients there have access to these resources at the time they need them – the very start of their referral journey. This will allow patients to make more informed decisions about coming onto our trials by demystifying what early phase trials are and what support they will be given.