Grinding to a Halt
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted UK ophthalmology research – but recovery is possible
Sarah Healey | | 2 min read | News
COVID-19 impacted biomedical research and clinical academia around the world. Research facilities and academic institutions shut down laboratories to all but COVID-19 related research; studies requiring patient recruitment were halted and research time was significantly depleted due to the redeployment of many clinical academics to support frontline services. Although various institutions have reported on the pandemic’s impact, its effect on ophthalmological research has been mostly ignored.
To address this gap, the Royal College of Ophthalmologists’ Academic and Research Subcommittee sent a survey comprising multiple-choice and free-text questions to its members. The questions aimed to characterize respondents’ roles and elicit any positive or negative impacts of the pandemic on their pre-existing research activities and plans for future research.
Of 114 research-active respondents, 104 (91.2 percent) reported that the pandemic had a negative impact on their research (1). Loss of sufficient research time, research delays, and funding shortfalls were among the contributing factors. Despite this, only about one in five (20.4 percent) of respondents said that research had become less attractive to them during the pandemic and a similar proportion (22.9 percent) reported having done no research at all.
While institutions and laboratories were shut down, the rise of virtual meetings and flexible working environments seemingly improved the ease and efficiency of certain research activities. Jeffry Hogg, one of the study authors and a Clinical Research Associate at Newcastle University, says, “The pandemic was a great stimulus for innovation in ophthalmology service provision, for example accelerating telemedicine approaches and rapidly showing us that key issues such as digital exclusion need to be addressed to avoid the inadvertent widening of health inequalities.”
The survey responses provide a framework for combating and mitigating the pandemic’s impact on ophthalmological research in the UK. Crucially, Hogg urges ophthalmologists to embrace the “Research by All” agenda, which establishes the importance of nurturing research interests in ophthalmology to normalize innovation and research practice in routine settings (2). By embracing such innovations, young ophthalmologists can look forward to a future in which research activity is a core – and rewarding – part of their professional lives.