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Reset ethics: supporting ethical decision-making in non-Covid health services during and after the pandemic

University of Warwick medical ethics researchers are involved in a new project that will examine the issues of resetting NHS services following the suspension of all but essential services during lockdown.

Covid-19 completely disrupted the NHS. All but the most urgent and essential of non-Covid services were suspended or re-organised. All of these services have to be reinstated in a way that accommodates the ‘new Covid normal’. The risks of new waves of Covid-19, local lockdowns already affecting parts of the country and imminent winter pressures, mean that services will need to be continually reorganised and hard decisions made. Decisions about how to restart NHS services in England need ethical scrutiny. A team of researchers, including experts from Warwick Medical School and led by Dr Lucy Frith from the Institute of Population Health, University of Liverpool, have received funding from the UKRI AHRC Covid call to support ethical decision-making in this new era. The project will focus on maternity care and paediatrics as two of the non-Covid areas which have been significantly affected by the response to the pandemic. The team will conduct an ethical analysis of current policies and processes guiding the reorganisation of NHS services. They will also be interviewing healthcare providers, those delivering care and service users to better understand their perspectives on the resetting of services. These findings will be used to develop and pilot test approaches to ethics support tailored to the needs of professionals working in these settings. A fair and transparent ethical framework for the reset phase, based on interactions with relevant stakeholders, will be produced to guide decision-making by policymakers and NHS staff.

The rest of the interdisciplinary project team are: Professor Heather Draper and Dr Paul Baines (University of Warwick), Dr Anna Chiumento (University of Liverpool) and Professor Sara Fovargue (Lancaster University).

Professor Draper, of Warwick Medical School, said: "Resetting NHS non-covid services following the suspension of all but essential services earlier this year is a huge task and one which raises a myriad of ethical issues. These are likely to prove even more challenging than those generated by the first wave. Lucy Frith and I were really pleased to secure this funding to support our clinical colleagues at this difficult time. We are concentrating on Maternity and Paediatric services, and Warwick will be leading on the latter. I am being joined in this task by Senior Research Fellow Dr Paul Baines, a retired Paediatric Intensivist with a PhD in medical ethics. Paul and I have been providing clinical ethics support to NHS trusts in Liverpool and Birmingham (respectively) throughout the crisis, as have my ethics colleagues here at Warwick Professor Anne-Marie Slowther (supporting a Coventry trust) and Dr Greg Moorlock (also supporting one in Birmingham)."

The project Principal Investigator, Dr Lucy Frith comments: “as the NHS responds to changes to non-Covid healthcare provision brought about by the pandemic we need to know how best to support NHS trusts and practitioners in making crucial ethical decisions that affect the delivery of non-Covid healthcare.”

  • The project website can be found here and the project Twitter: @resetethics1


7 September 2020

University of Warwick press office contact:

Peter Thorley
Media Relations Manager (Warwick Medical School and Department of Physics)


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