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Leading speech and language therapy expert at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London receives national recognition for Covid-19 work and spinal cord injury research

One of the country’s leading speech and language therapy experts, based at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, has received awards from two national organisations for her key work in spinal cord injury research and in the battle against Covid-19.

Dr Jackie McRae, Associate Professor and Director of Research in the Centre for Allied Health at Kingston and St George’s, has been given the Giving Voice award by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) for her work promoting speech and language therapy for Covid-19 patients, and the Spinal Research Institute’s Spinal Cord Injury Research Writing prize for her article on work to overcome swallowing and communication issues in spinal cord injury patients.

Dr McRae was nominated for the Giving Voice award following her clinical work as Lead Speech and Language Therapist at London’s NHS Nightingale Hospital and University College Hospital, London for managing Covid-19 patients in intensive care. She was the lead author for the RCSLT critical care webpages, as well as part of the Covid-19 expert panel advising on training and upskilling others who were working with patients suffering from the virus. In May 2020, she raised awareness of the RCSLT’s role in supporting people with the disease during a national TV interview with Good Morning Britain.

The Spinal Cord Injury Research Writing Prize was given to Dr McRae for her research into the acute care of people with spinal cord injuries. By surveying healthcare workers and patients with spinal cord injuries themselves, she was able to develop recommendations for providing consistent care for people with spinal cord injury who have swallowing, breathing, nutrition and communication issues.

“The next step to increase the impact of these recommendations is wide implementation across trauma and spinal units,” Dr McRae said. “If our patients show early improvements in swallowing and communication, this will demonstrate the value of these recommendations and help to establish a baseline for further research into therapeutic approaches.”

Recently, she has had a paper published in Disability and Rehabilitation, demonstrating the use of a screening tool to identify risk factors for swallowing difficulty in spinal cord injury patients. The study finds that earlier identification of risk and diagnosis of problems could have the potential to improve clinical outcomes.

Speaking on the paper, Dr McRae said: “There’s no standard care or care pathway for people with spinal cord injuries. Often problems are hidden and not seen and if people aren’t looked after properly, there can be complications such as chest infections and pneumonia. It’s about identifying risk factors early, delivering the correct method of assessment and targeted interventions to prevent those complications from arising.”

Over the past year, her work has received further recognition, with the World Health Organisation inviting her to join a spinal cord injury peer review group. As part of the role, she will be reviewing international guidance on rehabilitation programmes, with a focus on improving outcomes in low and middle-income countries.

“Obviously in the UK we have a healthcare that is free at the point of access,” she said. “But in a lot of these countries they don’t have free care. So it’s part of our goal to ensure that people in these groups, who are most compromised, will have access to reliable and consistent rehabilitation.”

Over the coming year, Dr McRae will have even more opportunities to further develop patient rehabilitation programmes. A new multi-site trial will be launched, putting in place best practice recommendations for her research so far. As well as this, she has also been awarded an Academy of Medical Sciences Daniel Turnberg Travel Fellowship to spend a month with colleagues at the University of Haifa in Israel to explore on long term clinical management of ventilated patients.