Research in the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic

Last updated on 20 Mar 2020

For up to date guidance for COVID-19 research, and information about research in this area that has been approved, refer to the COVID-19 section.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s Chief Scientific Officer said that ‘research offers hope for coronavirus’ and, speaking last night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told us that the first British patient has joined a clinical trial intended to test new treatment for COVID-19.

During public health emergencies like this one, studies can help us to understand more about Coronavirus. They help to generate better diagnoses, test new treatments and can help to prevent and manage the spread of disease.

But in these exceptional circumstances, there is a knock-on effect on health and social care research across the NHS. To recognise the significant pressures on the health service at this time, last night the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) announced that all new and existing studies supported through its Clinical Research Network would be paused to focus instead on COVID-19 research. You can read the full statement on the NIHR website.

NHS Research Scotland, Health and Care Research Wales and Northern Ireland’s HSC Research and Development division have also released their own statements. Any applicants submitting research in the NHS in the coming months should confirm in their application that their study can be supported in principle by the proposed sites before submitting it for review, or alternatively make clear that they plan to set up their study when current pressures have eased.

The Health Research Authority and the Devolved Administrations are fast-tracking applications for COVID-19 related studies. All other applications are being accepted for review but are likely to be delayed or potentially moved to a later Research Ethics Committee (REC) meeting than originally planned.

In line with the government’s guidance on social distancing, all of our REC meetings are being held virtually. If you have a slot at an upcoming meeting or are booking a new slot, you will be sent instructions on how to join.  

In order to create capacity within the approvals service, health and social care research applications from students working at master’s or undergraduate level are no longer being accepted with immediate effect, and until further notice. New guidance has been produced and shared today.

Whilst organisations across health and social care research are working closely together to prioritise critical Coronavirus studies and ensure processes are in place for all other research,  clinical care and patient safety is the top priority for the NHS during the pandemic and it is possible that any and all research which is not related to COVID-19 may go on to be disrupted during this time.

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