Studying the impact of Covid-19 policy decisions in real-time

A UKRI funded study by the University of Liverpool will monitor media trends and expert interventions during the Covid-19 pandemic, to help inform policy and examine how decisions affect healthcare workers.

The £300,000 funding will allow Professor Sally Sheard, working in tandem with Dr Nina Gobat at the University of Oxford, to monitor trends in real time and feedback to policy makers as the pandemic continues – rather than doing so after the event.

Professor Sheard, who is Head of the University’s Department of Public Health and Policy, alongside her role as Andrew Geddes and John Rankin Professor of Modern History, said: “In an infectious disease outbreak, public health policymakers are under tremendous pressure – especially from the media. They must respond rapidly and take decisions which impact enormously on healthcare provision.

“Members of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE), Public Health England leaders and other key stakeholders are recording information on their  meetings and events, and giving us regular interviews, so we can  capture their perspectives in real-time.

“Our approach is novel because policy decisions are usually only studied after an event, making the findings less reliable.”

The project is one of 21 new studies to receive support in the second round of the £24.6M rapid research response call, funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and by the Department of Health and Social Care through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The second tranche of funding, which also includes clinical trials on anti-malarial drugs, vaccine research and development of non-invasive Covid-19 tests, among others, totals £14.1M and will run over 18 months.

UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said: “The research community’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has been outstanding.

“In a matter of weeks, researchers have formed projects to develop potential vaccines, repurpose existing drugs and explore the potential for new medicines, and to examine how the virus is transmitted and causes wide variation in symptoms.

“Pre-clinical trials of vaccines and clinical trials of drugs are already underway. The pace at which this work has been carried out is tribute to the UK’s world-class research base and its dedication to the fight against this disease.”

As well as recording the responses of senior policymakers, the project will also use interviews and observation to examine the impact those responses and policy changes have on healthcare workers, in both general practice and hospitals.

Professor Sheard added: “We will learn their perspective on delivering care during the epidemic, and how they perceive the policy changes. These findings will be fed back to policymakers during the outbreak.”

This round of research funding was coordinated with other funders and the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure there is not duplication of effort and expertise is applied strategically.

The 21 projects announced today are in addition to the six projects funded in the first round, which was announced on 23 March.

Professor Sally Sheard is Knowledge Mobilisation Lead for the NIHR’s Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections (HPRU-EZI).

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