North East Connected

Testing time for scientists at Sunderland

As the Coronavirus continues to put the NHS under strain, scientists at the University of Sunderland are volunteering their skills to support the crucial testing of patients and key workers at the region’s hospitals.

Senior lecturers in Biomedical Science, Healthcare Science and Virology, Michelle Payne and Rachel Turnbull, are drawing on their years of professional experience and doing all they can to contribute to the national effort against the Covid 19 outbreak.

Alongside their own academic commitments, both have now begun volunteering to support NHS colleagues at hospitals in Newcastle and Teesside, testing both in-patients and staff with signs of COVID-19, as well as providing back-up for the under-pressure service and helping to support workloads.

Michelle and Rachel are registered with the Heath & Care Professions Council (HCPC) which means they meet requirements and standards of practice that allows them to get started on the front line straight away with the testing process.

“There was no hesitation, I knew my colleagues in the NHS would be facing pressures from this pandemic and immediately volunteered to help”, explained Michelle,  who spent almost 12 years working in the NHS in laboratory medicine before joining the University in 2015 as Senior Lecturer in Healthcare Science. Her experience and interests lie specifically in the areas of clinical microbiology, infection prevention and control and point of care testing.

“Our NHS holds a special place in my heart, it’s my training and background, and that desire to make a difference to patient care drives me forward.”

“I am privileged to hold a professional honorary contract with Newcastle Upon Tyne NHS Foundation Hospitals which allows me to engage with clinically and professionally relevant practice and research and feed this into my teaching.”

Similarly Rachel, a Senior Lecturer in Healthcare Sciences, has over 16 years of experience working in laboratory diagnostics for the NHS. She continues her professional practice with South Tees NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust as a Biomedical Scientist in Microbiology. Her experience and knowledge lies within the field of Virology and molecular diagnostics

She said: “I am testing patients and staff samples for Coronavirus at James Cook University Hospital. Performing the PCR test on nose and throat swabs to identify presence of viral RNA. It’s a really busy time and I’m just glad I could go in and help wherever I could.”

Rachel added: “This Coronavirus is unique, it’s a different strain that we’ve not been prepared for and still don’t have as much knowledge as we would like. It’s ever-evolving as research continues to study it, as a virologist the key thing is to help in the management of the pandemic.”

Both academics believe as well as raising awareness of the important work laboratories do, potentially there could be an increased awareness in the future of personal hygiene and in mechanisms of transmission of viral infections.

Rachel explained: “We have seen a number of emerging viruses in the last two decades, it’s nothing new – such as Zika and Ebola, but we haven’t seen something on this scale in this country, and for that reason I think people will begin to develop a broader level of knowledge of viral infections and transmissions, infection control and personal hygiene, from that, we might change our habits.

“Alongside this, a lot of people don’t know what a pathology lab is for, why it exists and how key it is into patient management. Hopefully there will be a wider awareness of its function and how important these labs are, which is a good thing.”

Michelle added: “It used to be the perception that these were the backroom NHS jobs that no one really knew much about. But among the fantastic work of the doctors and nurses, there are over 22,000 HCPC registered Biomedical Scientists doing incredible work and we want to raise the profile of the crucial role they play in fighting this disease.”

Our University community continues to contribute to the national effort against the Covid-19 outbreak.

So far our University has:

*seen 40 qualified nurses sent to frontline NHS hospitals across the North East

*designed and manufactured thousands of coronavirus-proof door openers for businesses across the world

*Donated a fully equipped training ambulance to the North East ambulance Service (NEAS) to assist in saving hundreds of lives

*Loaned an advanced specialist piece of diagnostic equipment for help with testing to a North East hospital trust

*seen hundreds of student volunteers mobilising to help, support and care for vulnerable members of the community 

*witnessed staff working on the frontline to look after some of our most vulnerable students

*seen final year Healthcare Science and Biomedical Science students join the professional register early to start supporting the crisis while it is happening

Professor Tony Alabaster, Academic Dean in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing, said: “Both Michelle and Rachel make a significant contribution through their work and research to our Faculty and indeed the wider University.

“It’s no surprise they’re volunteering to support NHS colleagues at this time, drawing on their own skills to improve life for others, something we are all rightly proud of.”

He added: “We work very closely with all our partners across the NHS and our University community continues to play a vital role in supporting frontline health workers as the national effort continues to tackle this global pandemic.”

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