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Redeployment during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic: implications for a clinical research workforce

24 June 2021
15 min read
Volume 30 · Issue 12

Abstract

Background:

Health professionals are considered a group vulnerable to developing mental health symptoms during a pandemic, with redeployment being a risk factor. However, previous literature suggests workplace communication can be a protective element.

Aims:

An audit aimed to evaluate NHS research staff's experiences of redeployment in order to provide suggestions for future improvements in the process.

Methods:

A questionnaire was disseminated to all staff in the clinical research directorate of an NHS trust. Responses were analysed using thematic analysis.

Findings:

Over half the redeployed staff experienced perceived negative psychological outcomes. The main reported contributor to this was perceived lack of communication.

Conclusion:

Communication needs to be improved in future redeployments. Future research should consider a larger cohort and more input from team members who remained on the pre-COVID-19 studies in order to improve the transition back from redeployment.

In December 2019, a previously unknown acute viral respiratory disease was identified in Wuhan, China. This disease, caused by a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and now known as COVID-19, quickly began to spread across the world. On January 29 2020 the first two patients were diagnosed and quarantined in the UK (British Foreign Policy Group (BFPG), 2020). At the time of publication (mid-June 2021), UK COVID-19-related death rates sit at 127 926 from 4 589 814 known cases. Worldwide COVID-19-related deaths number 3 834 951 people, from 177 120 609 known global cases (John Hopkins University, 2021).

This emerging international healthcare crisis required the NHS to maximise its frontline workforce fast, allowing very little time for detailed planning due to the speed at which the pandemic was proliferating (Majersik and Reddy, 2020). The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) responded to the COVID-19 crisis in March 2020. Those NIHR-funded clinical and academic health professionals, who were not already working on COVID-19-focused studies, were released to be redeployed as required within the NHS national pandemic response (NIHR 2020). Staff were thus redeployed to assist with the COVID-19 efforts, in both acute-care COVID-19 environments and COVID-19-focused clinical trials, with the remaining staff left to maintain pre-pandemic non-COVID-19 research. The exact number of NIHR-funded health professionals who were redeployed nationally is not currently available in the public domain; however, the reduction in staffing in existing research teams resulted in a much reduced capacity for non-COVID-19 research (NIHR, 2020). Consequently, research staff had to adapt quickly to new workloads and modified ways of working.

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