Impacts of COVID-19 on clinical research in the UK: a multi-method qualitative case study

David Wyatt*, Rachel Faulkner Gurstein, Hannah Cowan, Charles Wolfe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Clinical research has been central to the global response to COVID-19, and the United Kingdom (UK), with its research system embedded within the National Health Service (NHS), has been singled out globally for the scale and speed of its COVID-19 research response. This paper explores the impacts of COVID-19 on clinical research in an NHS Trust and how the embedded research system was adapted and repurposed to support the COVID-19 response.
Methods and findings
Using a multi-method qualitative case study of a research- intensive NHS Trust in London UK, we collected data through a questionnaire (n=170) and semi-structured interviews (n=24) with research staff working in four areas: research governance; research leadership; research delivery; and patient and public involvement. We also observed key NHS Trust research prioritisation meetings (40 hours) and PPI activity (4.5 hours) and analysed documents produced by the Trust and national organisation relating to COVID-19 research. Data were analysed for a descriptive account of the Trust’s COVID-19 research response and research staff’s experiences. Data were then analysed thematically. Our analysis identifies three core themes: centralisation; pace of work; and new (temporary) work practices. By centralising research prioritisation at both national and Trust levels, halting non- COVID-19 research and redeploying research staff, an increased pace in the setup and delivery of COVID-19-related research was possible. National and Trust-level responses also led to widescale changes in working practices by adapting protocols and developing local processes to maintain and deliver research. These were effective practical solutions borne out of necessity and point to how the research system was able to adapt to the requirements of the pandemic.
The Trust and national COVID-19 response entailed a rapid large-scale reorganisation of research staff, research infrastructures and research priorities. The Trust’s local processes that enabled them to enact national policy prioritising COVID- 19 research worked well, especially in managing finite resources, and also demonstrate the importance and adaptability of the research workforce. Such findings are useful as we consider how to adapt our healthcare delivery and research practices both at the national and global level for the future. However, as the pandemic continues, research leaders and policymakers must also take into account the short and long term impact of COVID-19 prioritisation on non-COVID-19 health research and the toll of the emergency response on research staff.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0256871
JournalPLoS One
Issue number8 August
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2021


  • covid-19
  • qualitative research
  • research infrastructure
  • research workforce
  • Research and development
  • research governance
  • health service
  • emergency planning


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