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Early Cancer Institute


Congratulations to Irene Debiram-Beecham for being Highly Commended at this year’s Excellence in Cancer Research Nursing RCN Nursing Awards. Irene, principal research nurse in the Early Detection Programme and ACED Clinic Cambridge Coordinator, led on the rapid clinical implementation of the Cytosponge test during the pandemic when endoscopy services were severely reduced. She developed a new robust training programme and provided ongoing support for nurses, clinicians and health care professionals across the UK.

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, diagnostic endoscopy services in England were curtailed by approximately 30%. As a result, the opportunity arose for rapid implementation of the Cytosponge, a non-endoscopic diagnostic tool often described as a "pill on a string". The Cytosponge is an office-based procedure, which can be administered by a single, non-medically qualified operator. Additionally, a low rate of aerosol generation is likely given that device removal only takes 3–5 seconds.

Irene designed Cytosponge training for those administering the test, and a "train the trainer" programme that included a webinar, hands-on-training in a number of locations across the UK and a competency-based sign-off. This has enabled further training to take place nationally and internationally for which Irene provides dedicated support. She also provides advice to nurses setting up new clinics. Those who have benefited from Irene's input have reported that her passion and calm, authoritative nature have been instrumental in empowering them to learn new skills and to develop an effective and inspiring nurse-led service. 

The award was announced on 12th October at the virtual RCN award ceremony.