Claire O'Donnell

Had a great tiem thanks to all teh surdents and most of all to the other scis. I'll miss playing i spy while we wait for students :)

Favourite Thing: Getting a load of dull numbers and then with a few clicks of the mouse turning them into graphs that explain what’s happening or maps that show where the people are who are likely to need a particular treatment. My favourite thing outside science is obviously much more interesting than this.



St Mary’s College, Wallasey, Merseyside


University of Liverpool – BSc (Microbiology) RGN ( the nursing qualification) then back again 5 years later to do a PhD

Work History:

Nurse on a surgical ward. Research on the development of stomach cancer, my PhD was on this. Sister on Intensive Care Unit doing research as well . This sort of Public Health for the past 10 years.


NHS – North West Specialised Commissioning Team

Current Job:

Clinical Effectiveness Specialist in Healthcare Public Health. Try getting that on a badge!

Me and my work

I work for the NHS on specialised services. These are services that aren’t in every hospital ,for example, brain surgery, kidney transplants, intensive care for children and babies, open heart surgery and rare cancers. IVF was one of these services until last month. I did a lot of work on IVF and was part of an Expert Advisory Group for the Department of Health.

My job is to analyse the research data on new treatments to see if they really are all that they’re claimed to be.   We need to know if they’re worth using NHS  money on them bearing in mind that if we spend the money on a new gizmo with bells and flashing lights for the heartsurgeons to use, we can’t spend it on stopping people smoking or finding people with early signs of kidney failure both of which would probably save more people’s lives in the long run.  I try to work out what benefit the new treatment will have.  I look at whether it will cure something or improves a person’s life so much that they can do something like climb the stairs when they couldn’t before because their heart was so bad.  Sometimes it turns out that atreatment really only keeps someone alive for a few more weeks or months and even then they feel pretty ill all that time. Obviously if the treatment is cheap and cures people we use it quickly.If it costs huge amounts of money, only helps a few of the people a little but and not for long – we think again.Sometimes, based on new research findings we have to change the way hospitals offer whole services.  You might have heard about the way heart surgery for children has changed, only a few hospitals in the country do it now.A few years ago I worked on IVF trying to design a service that offered treatments that worked well, to people who were most likely to have ababy from the treatment without spending all the NHS’s money on it. The really tricky part wasn’t the science- that was interesting- the hardpart was deciding who ‘needed’ treatment. 

My Typical Day

Dock my computer, we then have a race to see whether it can manage tolog itself on and boot up before I make a cup of tea.  Depressingly, I always win. What happens next varies.  I might be analysing research papers and working out what the results means for patients in our area or I might be meeting doctors and hospital managers to discuss whether or how we are going to usetheir latest treatments (I’m not sure ‘discuss’ is the right word – theycan get pretty cross if we say ‘No’ or ‘Only sometimes’).  I also have to give advice when a doctor writes in about a patient who they believe is a special case and should have a treatment that the NHS doesn’t usually offer.   I teach university students about how to make decisions about sharing out the NHS money in a way that is most likely to be fair to everyone, not just the people who need the flashy new machines but also the ones who need walking sticks and someone to talk to because they’re depressed.

What I'd do with the money

I’d fund the phone helpline at Infertility UK, the support group for people with fertility problems.

Health problems happen to anyone.  They change people’s futures, how people see themselves and how other people see them.  Lots of us just assume we’ll be able to have children if we want to.  How would you feel if someone said now that you wouldn’t be able to have children – or your partner couldn’t. You can’t see infertility but the impact on people’s lives can be similar to more visible health problems.  From working with the patients I know that infertility means people’s lives become very different to what they’d wanted.  For example, one of the difficult things is that other people seem to think it’s ok to ask why you don’t have children in a way that they wouldn’t dream of asking someone about a scar on their face or why they only have one leg.  I think it’s very hard to come to terms with the prospect of beingchildless. Having someone to phone who understands and might be ablehelp you cope with the treatments – which are painful and unpleasant-andbegin to think about what will happen if the treatments don’t work wouldbe really helpful.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Talkative, optimistic, easilydistracted.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I’ve been listening to (and liking) a lot of Florence and the Machine and Ellie Goulding thanks to my kids. I’ll listen most things but naturally, I draw the line at Justin Bieber

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Can’t decide, either being in a hot air balloon at dawn over the Valley of the Kings in Egypt or grumpily agreeing to go up a mountain on a foggy day only to find that the fog was a cloud which we walked through and found bright sunshine, a sea of puffy clouds and about 60 mountain tops poking through – just like being in a plane.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

To be able to eat spicy food without looking like a wimp and gesturing wildly for people to pass me water; to be quiet more often so I can be a better listener; to have less mad hair; in meetings I can see people who don’t know me thinking ‘I wonder if she has a curly, out of control brain as well.

What did you want to be after you left school?

I knew I was interested in science and diseases but I didn’t want to be a doctor. My mum’s advice was ‘Keep as may options open as you can’ so I chose a combination course that did a science degree and a nursing qualification.

Were you ever in trouble in school?

I got sent out of art once for walking funny as I went to get more paper. I wasn’t – I had new shoes that I thought looked pretty good and I was wondering what they looked like from the side. I did once set a bench on fire in the chemistry lab but everyone agreed that it was an accident that could have happened to anyone. Really, it was. Anyway, the extinguisher put it out quickly so no harm done.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I found the enzyme that was responsible for making a compound that can cause cancer. When I was a sister on intensive care, I looked after a man who was so ill he had to be transferred to a special unit in an ambulance with flashing lights and police outriders, it took us 45 minutes to do 120 miles. His wife was really scared he’d die on the journey (so was I) but he didn’t, he got better and 10 months after he left hospital, they named their new baby after me.

Tell us a joke.

What do you get if you eat the Christmas decorations? Tinsellitis