26 Nov 2020

During the Covid-19 pandemic, in our ARC and beyond, involvement in health and social care research has continued. This reflects the commitment of patient and public contributors and researchers to keep working together to develop and share knowledge which might improve health and wellbeing. 

In the face of widespread suffering and death, it has been clear that seemingly small things can matter deeply. An awareness of this can help research teams address issues that might go unnoticed. Modest improvements can make a real difference to people in severe distress or at life-changing moments: the value of these should not be overlooked.

Savi Hensman

At the same time, the pandemic has raised serious questions about the society in which we live. The death rate in England has been considerably higher than in many other countries, including some which are far less wealthy. Inquiry reports, research findings, investigative journalism and the lived experience of people directly or indirectly affected have shone light on some of the most troubling aspects of what has happened and continues to happen in England, including south London. Longstanding health inequalities have become even harder to ignore.

Many frail older and other disabled people, members of Black and minority ethnic communities (some working in health and social care) and low-paid workers in insecure jobs have sometimes been left wondering how much their lives count. Meanwhile women and children at risk of domestic abuse, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people living in unsafe spaces, and numerous others have faced threats to their physical and mental health.

It can be tempting to turn away from the big questions that cannot easily be answered by the kinds of studies most likely to get backing from major funders and be published in ‘high-impact’ journals. The temptation is all the greater if such questioning may lead to re-examining what has been taken for granted or touch on human vulnerability among professionals as well as the wider public.

Yet looking more deeply into such issues may lead to truly important advances. And where relationships have been developed between research staff and service users, carers and wider communities, this may open the door to important developments in knowledge and opportunities to put findings into practice. In this pandemic, big as well as small things matter.