By Helen Ford
From her care home on North Tyneside, Connie Hammersley has played a small but significant role in efforts to combat COVID-19.
She developed the condition early this year. While she was ill, Connie took part in a national trial, aimed at finding drugs to treat patients with the virus in the community.
I was quite willing to give my opinion and experience of it, especially if it would help other people. I didn't find it really anything to bother me, to worry me. As far as I was concerned, I was trying to help other people with it.
Connie is one of around three hundred and fifty people across the North East and north Cumbria to take part in the PRINCIPLE trial since the start of the pandemic. Led by a team from Oxford University, it has been testing a variety of existing medications to see if they are effective against COVID. The aim is to help people recover more quickly at home, and reduce the need for admission to hospital.
This COVID study is unusual because it is based not in hospitals but around GP practices.
Whitley Bay family doctor Justine Norman says the key is discovering whether everyday medications, prescribed regularly by GPs, could successfully treat the virus.
It's really important that we're able to keep these patients at home as much as we can and only escalate them to hospital if they become seriously unwell. If we can shorten recovery time by using some medications that we use every day in general practice, that would be really useful.
Since the trial began, a common asthma drug, budesonide, has been found to reduce the duration of the illness by several days. Two antibiotics have been found to have little effect on COVID.
Dr Norman says whatever the outcome, the trial adds to overall knowledge and will hopefully lead to better treatment and outcomes for people with the virus.
Meanwhile, Darlington GP Professor Ahmet Fuat says the contribution of the region's patients over the past year cannot be underestimated.
They may have had fears about 'what am I letting myself in for?' but the fact that in challenging times they've come forward, contributed to a research base that will hopefully help people in the future is hugely commendable and we are so grateful.
Recruitment for the PRINCIPLE trial initially concentrated on people who are vulnerable to serious illness from COVID, including those who are older and have underlying conditions.
Those criteria have now been widened.
Full details, and how to apply to take part, can be found here.