Male medical researcher using microscope

NIHR issues guidance to safeguard research during a second wave

In the event of a second wave of increased Covid-19 activity, new guidance has been released by NIHR to protect both coronavirus and non-coronavirus research.

The guidance states that research staff funded by NIHR should not be deployed to front line duties, except in exceptional circumstances.

This stance is in direct contrast to the initial wave of Covid-19 – which saw many staff from the NIHR’s Local Clinical Research Networks and Clinical Research Facilities deploy to the clinical front line in anticipation of heightened need.

In the first wave, it is estimated that over 1,500 academic trainees in England alone returned to full-time clinical duties.

The newly-released guidance does not change the stance set out in the Restart Framework published in May by NIHR to support the restarting of research paused due to Covid-19.

This ensures that there remains a flexible structure for local decision-making, with study prioritisation levels set out, with Covid-19 Urgent Public Health studies sitting as the top priority. It also highlights the importance of non-Covid studies where the research protocol includes an urgent treatment or intervention without which patients could come to harm.

Dr William van’t Hoff, Chief Executive of NIHR’s Clinical Research Network said: “We need to support the NHS in all its work, both Covid-19 related and more broadly.

“As the number of people with Covid-19 starts to rise again, it is imperative that our research staff focus on priority Covid-19 studies including vaccine studies.

“But we also need our teams to continue to support the restart of non-Covid-19 research, both commercial and non-commercial, in tandem with the restoration of NHS routine clinical services.

“The impact of research being paused in the Spring has been severe and we will make every effort to maintain recruitment rates across the portfolio.”

Dr Alison Austin, Deputy Director of Research at NHS England, added: “We support the key messages in the NIHR’s wave two guidance, particularly around ensuring research staff are not deployed to the front line unless there are exceptional circumstances, the prioritisation of Urgent Public Health studies and the continuation.”

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