Professor Mahendra G Patel OBE PhD FRPharmS, Pharmacy, and Inclusion and Diversity Lead
“I have built lifelong friendships with so many amazing and wonderful people. It’s hugely uplifting and motivating to be working alongside such highly dedicated and motivated staff and to be genuinely accepted as an equal."
What is your role?
I am the Pharmacy, and Inclusion and Diversity Lead. I raise awareness and help ensure greater visibility of trials UK-wide, making them as widely accessible as possible, especially to people from diverse backgrounds. To support this further, I utilise the depth and breadth of the vast pharmacy network and their intelligence through their teams and organisations to promote and encourage more people to take part, wherever they live and whatever their backgrounds.
What is a typical day?
It really depends on the day, but I do a lot of building of bridges, strengthening partnerships and collaborations – liaising with the UK-wide pharmacy network, the health and public health professional networks, and NHS organisations. I also regularly reach out to community and religious organisations and universities – then work and help develop meaningful resources which are culturally appropriate and in different languages. Sometimes I take part in evening/weekend talks with leaders of various faith and community groups. I jump on every opportunity where the trials can be made visible.
What has been the most rewarding part of the role?
Working with such a highly supportive and accommodating team of extremely intelligent and dedicated individuals – all working to each other's strengths. The respect and trust given to me by Prof Chris Butler and colleagues has been amazing. I appreciate and value immensely the freedom to just get on with things, as well as their confidence and belief in me. This can have a downside though as I never know when to stop!
What is the most stressful part of the role?
There often is just not enough time to get everything accomplished on the scale and pace that we are working on. It’s almost endless. There is a lack of proper investment and dedicated support in my area of work. I struggle with not being able to discuss and meet with people in person and having to conduct so much correspondence via email at the expense of losing time which could be better and more effectively utilised. Trying to build those relationships of trust and confidence – it can be very consuming and often challenging.
I am continuing to work to ensure there is sustainability. It’s so important to make sure the connections we build with organisations and leaders are meaningful, and we need to ensure they are appropriately supported and feel valued.
What will be your lasting memories of the last two years?
We have played a vital role in the pandemic in the search for treatment in the world’s largest and fastest recruiting clinical trials in primary care.
I am proud of the different and innovative ways we have created in ensuring greater recruitment – without patients having to leave their home to sign up. We have helped change the culture and raised the appetite for others to engage with clinical research in primary care, not just for now, but for decades to come.
It has been incredible being able to influence, collaborate and gain the support of senior government and cabinet office teams – for example, being asked to chair four high-level webinars hosted by the Department of Health and Social Care (Professor Jonathan Van-Tam Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Lord Kamal, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Technology, Innovation and Life Sciences, and Eddie Gray, Chair Antiviral Taskforce) and to work closely with healthcare regulators such as the General Pharmaceutical Council for the pharmacy profession.
We have also encouraged national faith groups, including Hindu and Muslim faiths, to reach out to their followers through places of worship, TV channels, radio, videos, and posters translated in a number of languages and designed to be culturally compatible to the different communities. For example, with the Muslim faith, the posters we designed quoted the holy Qu’ran, encouraging Muslims everywhere to join as an act of humanity. This sort of outreach has never been done before.
A similar concept was also shared through the BAPS Hindu temple (Europe’s most influential Hindu temple) and through their Head Priest of Europe. Informational slides about the trials were created and broadcasted through the temple’s own website and YouTube channels. This became the top news item university-wide across all its colleges and even in a number of other countries too! Not only that, it tripled the 61-day average of the number of people visiting our website, which remained elevated for nearly 6-weeks after the first broadcast.
Another significant achievement was empowering students at the University of Bolton as champions in running a 3-month community outreach programme. Under my guidance the students developed their own resources in a number of languages including videos, banners, leaflets, and posters, and promoted the PRINCIPLE Trial in public spaces such as malls. The students then passed this knowledge and the resources onto the next cohort of students to do similar for the PANORAMIC Trial! For both trials it was so encouraging to gain such a huge level of support and commitment from the University of Bolton hierarchy, which culminated in the students having their own identity and wearing purposely designed trial hoodies – all funded by Bolton!
We were able to make trials visible through posters in more than 8600 pharmacy outlets UK-wide, and were further supported by many of the national pharmacy organisations across the four nations to help promote and support the trials. The support and reach of community pharmacy was simply incredible in helping to reach out to communities throughout the UK. This was all at no cost to the CTU!
An article we had published in the Lancet shared to the wider world our strategy on Inclusion and Diversity and the impact of recruiting being largely representative of our diaspora in terms of ethnicity and deprivation. We also used community pharmacy networks in new and innovative ways in supporting public health.
It has been incredible collaborating with various places of worship—combining faith and medical science to promote research nationally, regionally and locally within the community.
It has been great getting celebrities such as Mr Motivator on board, supporting and promoting the trial through a series of videos.
The clinical evidence we have gathered has helped inform guidance to support reducing AMR in countries like India through not using antibiotics for the primary treatment of COVID-19 symptoms.
My whole journey and the remarkable experience I have gained through being so closely involved with the trials often make me pinch myself to believe if this is all really happening – a lifetime of fondest memories for sure!