This year has been dominated by COVID-19 and its impact on all aspects of our daily lives, from where we work, to how we spend time with our loved ones. And the role of research – often only of interest to academics and funders – has been thrust into the limelight, as people begin to understand the magnitude of the pandemic and our need to mobilise research and innovation to respond to the challenges it poses. 

Our work across the Foundation has reflected this challenge. We have supported our existing award holders to refocus their research to track the impacts of COVID-19, and we’ve commissioned a wealth of new research and analysis to help develop a deeper understanding of what’s happening. This ranges from work looking at the service transformations that emerged during the first wave of the pandemic, to research into COVID-19's impact on particular communities and on how it is exacerbating existing inequalities.  

Thinking about the long term 

We are now beginning to turn our attention to the long-term impacts of the pandemic on health, and the research needed to be able to understand these.  

The Health Foundation is working with partners and other funders, including the Nuffield Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, to understand what the long-term implications of COVID-19 are for the UK. We also want to know what research is needed to underpin our resilience to this pandemic and our preparedness for any future health shocks.  

For example, how do you manage and maintain routine health care when a system is responding to a crisis? How might working from home at scale shape health care services in the future? What are the long-term implications of prolonged school and university closures on health outcomes and what steps could we take in the future to reduce the impact on children and young people?  

Answering these questions – and many more – is critical to both understanding the impact of the pandemic on our lives, and to supporting the UK’s recovery. It will provide the evidence base for the policy and practice needed to help us out of this pandemic.   

Developing the long-term research agenda around COVID-19 

We are launching a new programme of work to help us understand the key research themes and questions that we will need to address to respond to COVID-19 going forward.  

To do this well we need to work collaboratively, so we’ll be bringing together research funders, policymakers, academics and researchers. We’ll also be talking with industry leaders, and listening to voices from education, social care and those communities most adversely impacted by COVID-19. And we’ll be engaging with the public, to really understand what their priorities are and how this can inform where we place the balance of our resources. 

We’re specifically focusing on: 

  • Health and care outcomes and their distribution across society, this includes the direct impact on wellbeing, morbidity and mortality, as well as the indirect impact caused by socioeconomic changes in response to the pandemic and the influence on the wider determinants of health.  
  • The structure and delivery of health and social care services, including the future provision and demand for services, potential for service innovation, access to services, quality and efficiency. 
  • Public health systems, such as the role between national and local infrastructure and the relationship between devolved nations. 
  • Policymaking to plan, prepare and manage key threats to health in the future and the co-ordination of policies across sectors.  

To support us in the work we have commissioned Ipsos MORI (with partners RAND Europe and The Strategy Unit) to bring together different perspectives and support discussions across disciplines and sectors. The work has already begun with a scan of the current funding landscape, and colleagues will be reaching out to different stakeholder groups throughout November and December.  

Preparing for the future 

Funders like the Health Foundation have an important role in helping to set agendas. We develop programmes of funding and work with the research and policy community to make sure that research and innovation addresses the really difficult questions of our time. But research is a long game and we know we can’t do it alone. This kind of collaborative approach will be key to making sure future research is asking the right questions.  

By starting the conversation now, we hope that research and innovation will help us prepare for, and navigate, future shocks in a way that minimises the impact on society, whilst helping us to continue to make sense of the world around us.

 

Usha Boolaky (@UBoolaky) is Assistant Director for Research, and Shaun Leamon (@shaunleamon) is Research Manager at The Health Foundation.

This content originally featured in our email newsletter, which explores perspectives and expert opinion on a different health or health care topic each month.

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