Healthcare research in a Covid-19 climate

12 June 2020

Professor David Whitaker, Dean of Healthcare Sciences, Cardiff University; Research Lead for CoDH Wales 

Like most universities, Cardiff University is slowly emerging from the Covid-19 crisis. Research laboratories are gradually re-opening across the campus, but only those in which research is directly related to Covid and where safe distancing can be maintained. No studies involving human participants are yet permitted.

The effect on our research has been varied. Some studies have been unaffected – typically literature reviews or those in writing-up or analysis phase. In others it has been possible to amend the study design to cope with Covid restrictions. Other studies have had to be paused because they involve patients or NHS staff, observational research methods or require human laboratory access. Some postgraduate research students have had to defer their studies in order to return to practice.

Some Covid-specific research is worth particular mention. Professor Chris Bundy is conducting an investigation on the impact of Covid-19 on health anxiety and wellbeing. She has been using an online survey to measure the threat response in real time, measuring how people have been coping in the first phase of the threat. Professor Billie Hunter and her team have been carrying out Rapid Analytic Scoping Exercises for the Royal College of Midwives (RCM). The aim is to support RCM by providing very rapid reviews of the evidence to inform RCM/RCOG guidance for maternity staff.  Maternity services are under great strain at the present time, with evidence changing rapidly, meaning that this type of research is of huge importance.

Professor Danny Kelly has been supported by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Research Society to conduct a survey of healthcare practitioners at the peak of the crisis, on the downward curve and at resolution. The first few days of the programme saw 1,400 responses. This will quantify the impact on frontline healthcare workforce and how it can be best supported afterwards. Professor Molly Courtenay’s research highlights numerous opportunities whereby education and training in anti-microbial stewardship can support emergency response efforts, ie infection prevention and control knowledge and skills, the early detection of infection, interpretation of test results, monitoring and managing treatment, and interprofessional collaborative practice.

One side-effect of lockdown is the increased prevalence of lower back pain. Dr Liba Sheeran and Professor Val Sparkes were part of a team which launched an online back pain self-management support system BACK-on-LINETM to all NHS Wales staff. It offers invaluable support mechanism for NHS staff currently unable to access face-to-face occupational health support. BACK-on-LINETM was also launched to all Cardiff University staff with free unlimited access to help them manage back problems when working from home. Since its launch the platform has been visited over 1,000 times. Transport for London and Network Rail, with over 100,000 employees between them, have shown an interest in adopting the system.

This blog provides just a small sample of Covid-related research at Cardiff, and similar examples can no doubt be given at Universities across the UK and the rest of the world. Let us hope that governments recognise the importance of healthcare research and continue to support such work into the future.


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