Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on Academic Ophthalmology and Ophthalmic Research

  • 17 Jul 2020
  • RCOphth

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists is deeply concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on academic ophthalmology, research and innovation in ophthalmology and vision sciences.

Research is the basis of innovation in the NHS and the source of the knowledge that underpins prevention and treatment of eye conditions and strategies to reduce the burden of sight impairment. It’s essential that we act now and proactively to minimise the significant adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our ability to undertake sight-saving and sight preserving research and develop the clinician scientists of the future.

Speaking on the document and the impact of COVID-19 on research in ophthalmology and vision sciences research, RCOphth Academic Chair Professor Jugnoo Rahi 

Since sight impairment differentially affects the most vulnerable members of society, interruption of research in ophthalmology and vision sciences is likely to exacerbate existing health inequalities and impact patient care.

In order to address this, RCOphth’s paper on Mitigating the Impact of COVID-19 on Academic Ophthalmology and Ophthalmic Research identifies the nature of long term of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on ophthalmic research. These include the significant adverse impacts on academic ophthalmologists at all career stages and on research within ophthalmology such as:

  • Interruption of research due to closure of research facilities / academic institutions to all but COVID-19 related laboratory research or repurposing for COVID-19 research
  • Interruption of research that is patient facing and requires recruitment of patients, especially shielded or extremely vulnerable patients, through normal NHS services but not COVID-19 related, or recruitment of healthy volunteers that requires access to healthcare facilities e.g. for imaging
  • Interruption of dedicated/protected research time and training that requires research facilities in Higher Education Institutions/Research Institutes or NHS facilities and/or recruitment of patients
  • Interruption of research due to increased clinical duties as many academic ophthalmologists, at all career stages, re-deployed to support frontline NHS services, including those who have interrupted their academic training and research to do so

As the NHS starts to resume and restore clinical services, guidance is emerging from key funders and regulators of research and clinical academic training programmes about the framework and principles for resuming research and restarting academic training.

However there is a current lack of firm commitments about the two key resources, time and funds, required to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. The RCOphth’s document outlines nine key actions and commitments for key stakeholders including the Government and UK ophthalmologists to help sustain ophthalmic research on which patients rely.

In order to ensure this important message is heard by all stakeholders, the RCOphth is now calling on the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges to develop a principles document relating to mitigating the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on all areas of academic medicine and surgery.