Prof Dame Lesley Fallowfield wrote the following article for inPulse, Brighton and Sussex Medical School internal bulletin. In it, she shares useful tips on how SHORE-C are keeping in touch with each other in these times.

Work fulfils a major part of our lives and while we all experience periods of boredom, frustration, overload or irritation with it, the sudden and significant changes forced upon us by situations such as the current Coronavirus pandemic does make one realise the valuable contribution that work plays. Although we have the advantages of broadband and other technologies to help us conduct some work from home, Zoom, Teams, Skype or whatever cannot really replace the easy, fortuitous banter in the coffee room or spontaneous sharing of ideas and resolution of problems that physically being together in one space permits. I really miss my colleagues but I think that our small team SHORE-C has made the best of a difficult situation which will hopefully help us hit the ground running when and if things recover. I am sharing with readers of inPulse what we did and have set up in the hope that it might help others.

We are essentially a research group concerned with the measurement of patient-reported outcomes in major national and international trials of cancer treatment. There are thousands of patients enrolled in these studies who regularly complete questionnaires or semi-structured telephone interviews. This has created a major logistical challenge for us as although there is a moratorium on patient recruitment, those patients already in studies could still be monitored. Before the virtual lockdown we were able to prepare all the mail that needs to be sent out up until May and team members took piles home for posting out at the relevant time. We consulted colleagues and checked our trial protocols regarding ethical approvals for changing some systems to on-line collection of data. Telephone interviews can now be done from home. Unfortunately, some trials and studies that were about to commence have had to be put on hold but funders, by and large, are being understanding.

Another major part of our research is to design, run and evaluate communication skills programmes for healthcare professionals when discussing complex issues with patients. We had just completed a major educational programme on how to talk about risk and uncertainty in genetic testing. This took over a year to film and develop; we had evaluation training workshops booked for the rest of this year and have had to postpone all these while the doctors and nurses who might have attended join the frontline to tackle COVID-19.

There has been a curtailment to much of our conference participation and the presentations planned, however reviewing for academic journals and grant awarding bodies is on-going and perhaps more difficult to decline at the moment! The team are also managing to maintain their committee activities on the National Cancer Research Institute living well and beyond cancer workstreams, for example, and keeping the BSMS ethics committee up and running. Some have volunteered to mark student individual research projects (IRPs).

So, what else are SHORE-C doing over and above answering the endless emails and trying to keep sane? Firstly, our wonderful admin staff Beth and Sharon were quick off the mark to ensure that we all had the means to connect remotely, ably assisted by our data manager Shirley and IT staff. Each morning Beth holds a virtual register by email – we all report in about our health and the contact details for any outside teleconferences arranged for that day. We send in agenda items for a Microsoft Teams meeting which we hold most mornings for all to join in.

This Teams meeting is an important and useful way to problem-solve and organise our work in a way that email exchanges just do not permit. Apart from the research activities that can still be undertaken we are continuing to plan other research and writing papers. We have also offered our expertise in communication locally and nationally, to help write guides/scripts for healthcare professionals who are having some very challenging conversations with patients.

If anyone in SHORE-C has few commitments for the day, then they have volunteered via the NHS or their local communities to deliver medicines shopping etc.

We have also set up a SHORE-C WhatsApp group on which to exchange photos, videos and conduct more social non-work related chit-chat, and have organised virtual coffee-mornings, yoga and exercise classes. These are really worrying times for us all, but trying to establish some new sense of normality and purpose is vital. One can become too much of a news junkie which can be depressing.

I am grateful to the efforts that everyone in IT at our universities has made to keep us connected and personally grateful that I work within a well-organised and motivated team who are determined to keep the show on the road. Stay well everyone.

Prof Dame Lesley Fallowfield