The show must go on – part 1

The Queen's Tower at Imperial campus

In a matter of mere months, a new virus has completely changed the world. In the trail of destruction that coronavirus is causing, it has rudely propelled many of us into a new way of working. 

Offices have closed, laboratories shut their doors, classrooms and lecture theatres emptied. But the world has not ground to a halt – the show must go on. At IGHI, our researchers are continuing their endeavour to improve health and care. In this new series, find out how our people are adapting to working life amid coronavirus, and the unique opportunities and challenges this has presented them.

A photograph of Jessica PresstJessica Presst, IGHI Director of Operations, Education

“Working in education, we’ve been hit really hard. While our NHS Digital Academy is already predominantly online and really leading the way with remote learning, our other Master’s degrees were all delivered in person. With intense blocks of teaching scheduled in, we’ve had to completely revamp all of our plans. It’s forced us, and the academics leading the teaching, into a completely new way of working.

“While it’s been a huge challenge, we’ve responded flexibly and quickly. We’re using a mix of different solutions, such as pre-recorded videos, live webinars with academics, interactive exercises, discussion boards, and virtual group activities with peers. Although we’ve had to do this quicker than we’d have liked, it’s going to give valuable experience and insight into remote teaching. We’d planned to digitise our courses over the next couple of years, and now we’ll have the opportunity to trial different things and learn what works well and what doesn’t. Then we can use these insights to create really high-quality online modules in the future.

There may have initially been a fear of the unknown, but this has shown us that online learning isn’t scary; it’s modern and a 21st Century way of delivering education.”

A photograph of Dr Saira GhafurDr Saira Ghafur, Digital Health Lead, Centre for Health Policy

“Recently there’s been a huge rise in the use of technology across both sides of my work. Not only has the way that I interact and share information with my colleagues shifted completely online, but the clinical work that I do has also turned remote as well. We’ve been doing outpatient consultations on the phone instead of face-to-face, and very soon this will be moving to video too.

“This shift has created an opportunity for our digital health team at IGHI. We’re now exploring how the ongoing situation has impacted the use of digital technology in healthcare, and how effective these tools are for patients and healthcare professionals in both primary and secondary care. We’ll also be looking at the implications for cyber security: a system under pressure is a prime opportunity for hackers. Other parts of the team are working with other Universities and Trusts, analysing clinical data to get a better understanding of the disease process.

“I’ll also now be heading back to the frontline, so I’ll have to juggle my digital health research with clinical shifts to support the NHS amid the coronavirus pandemic. IGHI leadership have been really supportive of clinicians helping out on the frontline. It’s scary when you see the acute end and it comes with risks, but I feel that we’ve all got to do our part.”

A photograph of Ivor WilliamsIvor Williams, Senior Designer, Helix Centre

“A number of our projects are really about engaging and working with families and carers of people at the end of their lives. As we now can’t do this in person – and given the sensitivities of the work – we had concerns our children’s hospice project, for example, was going to be difficult to move forward. But unexpectedly we’ve found that engagement has been robust; many people are looking for distractions during this difficult time.

“There are challenges that come with doing this remotely; being unable to read people’s body language in conference calls means you have to be more aware of who is in the ‘room’ and ensure that everyone gets space to talk, particularly those who may lack the confidence to speak up.

“But there have also been opportunities that have arisen as a result of coronavirus; we’ve fast-tracked our work on caring for people at the end of their life. With the health system under pressure, carers may need to do more at home without the support from community teams. So we’ve developed and disseminated guides and resources to support carers with practical things, such as administering medication, and what they can do for someone who is in pain or agitated.

“We’re all learning a lot as a collective community, and I’m in awe of the collaboration and open-spirited nature of it all.”

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