In the midst of a global pandemic, our people are continuing their endeavour to improve health and care. In this new series, we’re speaking to our IGHI community to find out how they’re adapting to working life amid coronavirus, and the unique opportunities and challenges this has presented them.
Matt Harrison, Senior Designer, Helix Centre, IGHI
“We’ve been working with Imperial’s new dementia research centre – part of the UK Dementia Research Institute – to use technology to improve the lives and care of people living with dementia at home. This research isn’t lab-based like much of the work across the Institute, meaning that we can keep going despite these challenging circumstances and do something useful for people with dementia.
“With the health system under pressure and lockdown measures in place, isolation and loneliness for people with dementia is a real issue. So we’re now applying our skills as designers and engineers to address this and help people connect. Normally we’d carry out face-to-face research to explore the problem we’re trying to solve and identify solutions. Instead we’ve been using online platforms to engage with people with dementia and their carers. It’s been really successful; they’ve really enjoyed connecting with us and we’ve been able to share our ideas and prototypes via video.
“It’s made us realise that online platforms could be a really effective way to tackle isolation for people with dementia, while supporting their families and carers to cope with the increased demand they may be experiencing. We’re now exploring what this might look like in practice and the best way get communities and social groups online, so that they feel they’re not alone.”
Dr Ussamah El-Khani, IGHI Clinical Research Fellow
“I have a background in general surgery and I’m currently completing my PhD on patient safety in disaster zones. The lockdown has meant that one major piece of work for my PhD – the final piece of the jigsaw – is on hold. So I’m going to use the time instead to focus on this massive challenge that is coronavirus. I want to use my PhD as an instrument to investigate how we can improve the management of the COVID-19 crisis in disaster zones, where for example in refugee camps we’re seeing poor public health awareness and the need for greater ventilator capacity.
“Because the clock has temporarily stopped on my PhD, I volunteered to work in intensive care to support the NHS. It’s daunting but really enjoyable, and I’m becoming a better doctor overall as I’m learning lots of different skills. It’s a genuine privilege to be able to assist in this time of crisis and I feel a great sense of personal pride in doing so.
“Seeing the impact that teams at Imperial are having right now on UK policy is really empowering and motivates us as researchers, because it’s a real manifestation of what we do on a day-to-day basis. And I’m really humbled by the positive public response, which is recognising that research and good science are crucial for tackling this issue.”
Cat Kilkenny, IGHI’s Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement Officer
“We’re lucky because we have loads of fantastic patients and members of the public who are keen to stay involved in our work during the pandemic. We’re trying to ensure that people get involved in projects as early as possible, as would usually happen, so that we’re led by individuals’ lived experience. But moving everything online is tricky in this field; normally when we look to build new relationships and trust, we rely on face to face interactions to get to know people better over time.
“We’ve run a number of online workshops already, for example about young people’s mental health during COVID-19, and the responses have been positive. One major thing we’re learning with these virtual meetings from home is that people are essentially inviting you into their house. So it’s more important than ever to be respectful of that, particularly if we’re discussing sensitive topics such as health data sharing. It’s meant I’ve needed to find new ways to make people feel comfortable. On top of that, some people may not be as tech-savvy, or have access to the technologies we’re using, so we’ve had to think about how to remotely engage with these groups.
“It’s definitely been a very different work experience, but more than anything, I’m realising this is an opportunity for us all to learn together and collaborate more in this unprecedented time.”