Written by Dr Karen Morton, Consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford, and Founder of Dr Morton’s – the medical helpline©
It is exciting that the work undertaken to look at which subtypes of group B Streptococcus were prevalent in different geographical areas, with the possible hope of producing a vaccine against group B Strep, is going to be presented at the conference in November. It will be a pleasure to hear Prof Androulla Efstratiou speak and update so many interested parties on the results of the DEVANI study; a huge, ambitious, multicentre, international study, which I participated in between June 2009 and March 2010. Goodness, it seems such a long time ago now!
I still remember vividly the effort involved in energizing our midwives and obstetricians to recruit over 600 women to the study, with swabs taken at 34 – 37 weeks gestation and again when they came in to have their babies. It doesn’t sound like an enormous achievement, but don’t be fooled. Studies like this require immense energy and constant reminders and motivating action. With the swabs came extra forms and follow-up information, which sounds like nothing, but when careful explanation and written consent is required, in the course of a busy antenatal clinic, the overwhelming temptation is to ‘leave it to someone else’. This sort of research, undertaken during one’s normal working day, not as a fulltime researcher, is a labour of love and dedication. Every participant feels as if they are the only person recruiting; and every completed case feels like a personal triumph.
I recall the process of putting together the leaflets and test packs, by willing (or not so willing but cajoled) junior doctors and midwives over sandwiches and crisps in the evening, on more than one occasion. Then presenting the plan behind the study and to the entire maternity and paediatric departments, illustrating the need for the project with a case presentation of a baby who died of group B Strep septicaemia. So many of the staff knew the mother and father and were moved and motivated by this tragedy.
Then came the various visits to Colindale to meet with co-workers at the Health Protection Agency, which made me feel like a real scientist as opposed to a jobbing obstetrician. Unfortunately the fine which arrived a few days later for driving in a bus lane whilst looking so carefully for the turning from the Edgware Road into Colindale Avenue, did not feel so good!
And so the number of cases recruited grew, and I felt better and better about the contribution we at the Royal Surrey County Hospital were making. We had truly done our bit. I congratulated everyone and gave a prize to the midwife who had recruited the largest number of women.
So now we are to hear where we are in the long journey that is basic research to find a solution to a serious (and sometimes heart-breaking) and potentially preventable problem. I can’t wait!