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Response to COVID-19 outlined in publication marking third anniversary of pandemic outbreak

To mark three years since the UK was first put into lockdown, ARC East Midlands has taken the lead on a new publication which showcases how ARCs across the country responded to the coronavirus pandemic. NIHR ARC West provided communications support for the project.

The document, NIHR ARCs supporting the fight against COVID-19, includes case studies demonstrating how the groups pivoted their research programmes following the outbreak of COVID-19. It shows work across a range of themes, such as end of life care, equality and diversity, care homes, workforce planning and children and young people.

ARC East Midlands has been involved in a range of COVID-19 projects and workstreams, including publishing reports on the impact of COVID-19 on ethnic minority communities.

Professor Kamlesh Khunti, Director of ARC East Midlands and the Real-World Evidence Unit and Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester, was one of the first people to highlight the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on ethnic minority populations and that people from these backgrounds were suffering more severe disease and increased mortality.

He said: “COVID-19 has laid bare the deep-rooted inequalities that exist within our society, with ethnic minority communities bearing a disproportionate burden of the pandemic.

“Reflecting on the past three years since the COVID-19 outbreak, NIHR ARC’s response has been pivotal in guiding evidence-based approaches to improve health outcomes for communities.”

He added: “This new document showcases the incredible efforts of all of the ARCs nationally and serves as a reminder that we must remain vigilant in our pursuit to mitigate the impact of this pandemic on our most vulnerable populations.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, it is imperative that we continue to invest in research to fully understand the long-term health impacts of the virus.”

In response to the pandemic, Professor Khunti also led an expert working group that developed a risk reduction framework for NHS staff at risk of greater levels of severity from COVID-19 infection.

The framework was developed at the request of NHS England and was aimed at helping employers to supplement risk assessment of their staff, particularly high risk and vulnerable groups, such as ethnic minority populations, to ensure staff safety.

“We have assessed more than 70 per cent of NHS employees with this framework, which is a remarkable milestone to hit,” said Professor Khunti.

He added: “The development of a risk reduction framework for NHS staff at risk of greater levels of severity from COVID-19 infection was crucial in order to protect our frontline healthcare workers, who have tirelessly battled this pandemic.

“We owe it to them to minimise the risks they face and provide them with the necessary support and resources to continue their vital work.”

In the foreword, the ARC Directors write: “In 2020, we made rapid changes to our research programmes across the ARCs, to inform policy and practice, improve health and care, and deliver national-level impact in this rapidly changing landscape.

“Our expertise in data modelling, multi-morbidity, mental health and social care alongside our ability to build and sustain collaborations across the NHS, social care, the voluntary sector and industry, has placed us in a unique position. We have been able to contribute to the efforts to understand the virus and its impact on communities, locally, nationally and globally.

“This publication outlines our response as ARCs, both collectively and individually, to this challenge. It showcases the part we have played in supporting the health and care sector and patients, public and communities. We are proud of our part in lending our expertise to understanding the disease and assisting the global effort to contain it, improving outcomes and saving lives.”

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Executive of the NIHR and the Department of Health and Social Care’s Chief Scientific Advisor, said: "The COVID-19 pandemic was unlike any health crisis we had experienced for a century. In order for us to tackle the pandemic swiftly and strongly, we needed a collaborative and sustained approach across health and care research that harnessed the power of our collective effort like never before.

“This impressive report sets out how that effort was provided, extending across many different themes, specialisms, and areas of the country. It illustrates how researchers, working together to tackle a common cause, can have such an important impact for patients and the public.”

Published on: 23 Mar 2023