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The role of research in improving respiratory care

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The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for research and in particular for respiratory research. The lungs, often the neglected area of care provision, don’t get the research funding and priorities they deserve. In fact, the UK spends just £47 million per year from the public purse on research into respiratory conditions – a paltry 1.8% of the total £2.56 billion spent on health research.[1]

The importance of respiratory research

Research into the practice of respiratory care is essential and it has been highlighted that there are fewer clinical academics focusing on respiratory care.[2]

Findings from research can: [3],[4]

  • foster evidence-based clinical practice and improved health outcomes for patients
  • inform respiratory healthcare professionals on cost-effective, value-based interventions.

Evidence-based practice is the basis for, and charts the future of, the profession.[3]

It can be difficult to highlight how research can be embedded in a clinical career, especially for nurses and allied health professionals (AHPs) where there is not always a clear pathway – although this is improving.[5],[6]

I believe it is often a chance rotation, a fortuitous conversation at a conference, or a workplace with enthusiastic research champions where we can see the potential of research. These interactions can give you that lightbulb moment where you can see how you can make a difference to the clinical care that you deliver, and influence the lives of people for the better using research.

Undertaking respiratory research during COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic stimulated urgent action across international healthcare systems and, as a respiratory illness, called respiratory researchers to action across the world.

The pandemic created the need for rapid research and evaluation of respiratory staffs’ role and the need to address the needs of people with respiratory disease.  Dr Carol Kelly, Dr Lindsay Welch, Dr Kate Lippiett, Mrs Emma Ray and I were all members of the Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists (ARNS) who had worked in cross-over roles, clinically and in research in the past. Our collective expertise in respiratory related research brought us together to form the Academic Respiratory Researcher Alliance (ARRA) in 2020.

The Academic Respiratory Researcher Alliance

Initially, the main purpose of ARRA was to help promote respiratory research and ensure that people with respiratory disease, their lay carers and families receive the best possible care. It was also to drive the research priorities of respiratory nurses and AHPs, to fulfil gaps in current care and treatment delivery in people with respiratory illness.

During the pandemic, as a group, we worked together on a series of projects to explore the experience of respiratory nurses in terms of resilience, mental health and fatigue.[7],[8],[9] As nurses and respiratory researchers with peers on the front line, we thought it was crucial to highlight the impact of the pandemic on respiratory staff. The findings have been presented at several conferences including the British Thoracic Society (BTS),[10] the European Respiratory Society (ERS),[11] and even presented at the Cross-Party Group on Lung Health at the Scottish Parliament.[12]

Although the purpose of the group was to work together collaboratively on research, we recognised that post-COVID, or when things began to get back to normal, that it would be difficult to work together on projects that could unite us all – especially since all of us had changed role over that time-period.

As a group, we had benefitted from the support and mentoring we provided to each other. We wanted to offer this to others developing their independent respiratory research interests, to shape ideas and link with peers to attend conferences and join committees with, and so on.

On the back of this, we decided to relaunch ARRA as a network to bring together clinicians and researchers who want to be involved in research, whether a little or a lot, and who may be feeling isolated or unconnected. We also wanted to highlight opportunities and link fellow researchers with those looking to get involved in research.

The Academic Respiratory Researcher Alliance network

In December 2023, ARRA was launched as a network to bring together isolated respiratory researchers. Our plans are to provide regular information around research opportunities, to share and develop your skills and find other people to work with.

So far, we have had over 120 sign ups, ranging from nurses, physiotherapists, music therapists, respiratory physiologists and sociologists, to general practitioners, behavioural scientists, implementation scientists and computer science researchers. All sign ups are at varying stages of their careers, some new to research, some undertaking PhDs, as well as experienced and very well-established researchers, with representation from all over the world.

You can find out more about ARRA here or register your interest in joining here.

Top tips for exploring research opportunities in your role

  1. Your team

Speak to colleagues in your team and find out if anyone is actively involved in research, perhaps undertaking MScs, PhDs, or clinical trials. Chat about some ideas for the research that you would potentially like to do. Could you shadow someone who is undertaking research?

  1. Local clinical networks

If you have any local clinical respiratory networks, get in touch and have a chat with the leads about current areas of research.

  1. Conferences

Attend a conference and start networking. ARNS, The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care (ACPRC), British Association for Lung Research (BALR) and BTS are very good conferences to hear about what is going on across the UK, depending on your respiratory interests.

  1. University research

Link with your local university and find out what their researchers are involved in.

  1. Social media

Use social media to follow the key movers and shakers and get in touch for advice and support. Most people are happy to chat and give advice.

  1. Funding opportunities

Look at funding opportunities, National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), Chief Scientist Office (CSO), Burdett Trust for Nursing and others have a wide range of funding for healthcare professionals at all stages of their careers.

And of course come and join ARRA!

Any advice given and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the view of Chiesi Limited (Chiesi).  All content in this article is for informational and educational purposes only.  Although Chiesi strives to always provide accurate information, it is not responsible for and does not verify for accuracy any of the information contained within.

[1] Asthma + Lung UK. Investing in lung research. Available at: https://www.asthmaandlung.org.uk/sites/default/files/2023-03/Research_Superpower_report.pdf

[2] Hall I, Walker S, Holgate. Respiratory research in the UK: investing for the next 10 years. Thorax. 2022; 77(9): 851-853

[3] Branson RD, Kallet RH. Creating a Process of Research in Respiratory Care. Respir Care. 2021; 66(8): 1363-1364

[4] Burns LJ, Clayton CP, George JN, et al. The effect of an intense mentoring program on junior investigators’ preparation for a patient-oriented clinical research career. Acad Med. 2015; 90(8): 1061–1066

[5] Council for Allied Health Professions Research. CAHPR Research Practitioner’s Framework. Available at: https://cahpr.csp.org.uk/documents/cahpr-research-practitioners-framework

[6] NHS England. Making research matter: Chief Nursing Officer for England’s strategic plan for research. Available at: https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/B0880-cno-for-englands-strategic-plan-fo-research.pdf

[7] Roberts NJ, McAloney-Kocaman K, Lippiett K, et al. Levels of resilience, anxiety and depression in nurses working in respiratory clinical areas during the COVID pandemic. Respir Med. 2021; 176: 106219

[8] Roberts NJ, McAloney-Kocaman K, Lippiett K, et al. Factors influencing fatigue in UK nurses working in respiratory clinical areas during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic: An online survey. J Clin Nurs. 2024; 33(1): 322-332

[9] Roberts NJ, Kelly CA, Lippiett KA, et al. Experiences of nurses caring for respiratory patients during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic: an online survey study. BMJ Open Respir Res. 2021; 8(1): e000987

[10] NJ Roberts, K McAlooney-Kocaman, L Welch, et al. S116 Resilience, anxiety and depression in nurses working in respiratory areas during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thorax. 2021; 76: A70

[11] Welch L, Roberts NJ, Lippiet KA, et al. A negotiation of respiratory risk in the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Eur Respir J. 2021; 58 (Suppl. 65), Article OA1504

[12] Scottish Parliament. Cross-Party Group on Lung Health 28 January 2022. Available at:  https://www.parliament.scot/-/media/files/cross-party-groups/lung-health/minutes-of-cpg-lung-health-meeting-28-january-2022.pdf

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