• Report from major UK trusts says 5,000 research jobs could be lost due to the impact of coronavirus
  • Demands that government secure full funding for public health studies
  • Suggestion that covid-19 research could leave trusts in deficit

The NHS could lose more than 5,000 research staff and around £500m in funding because of covid-19, according to major trust leaders.

In an impact statement sent to the Department of Health and Social Care, the representative body UK Research & Development referred to an 80 per cent decrease in NHS commercial research activity in April, compared to the average activity levels seen over the last three years. 

It states that should activity levels stagnate at the same rate seen in April, the NHS could lose £447m, which would equate to around 5,000 jobs. A 50 per cent reduction for rest of the year would equate to around £276m.

The team that compiled the report included officials from several major trusts including Guys’ and St Thomas’ and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals, but it took responses from around 50 NHS organisations of which 90 per cent reported “major financial risks”.

A significant proportion of NHS research activity is funded by private industry, but this income stream has shrunk as NHS research teams have concentrated on covid-19 and “a substantial number of commercial research studies have paused”.

Other concerns included the unfunded costs of researching coronavirus and vaccines, and the lack of guidance as to whether the costs will be reimbursed.

One example presented was SIREN, a study examining whether having covid-19 antibodies is effective at preventing infection.

The report states: “Recognised as an important study, NHS organisations are under pressure to recruit 10 per cent of their workforce (for SIREN).

“Based on an organisation with 5,000 staff this would be 500 people with an unfunded research costs of £246k plus an additional £122k for the costs of testing.”

The impact statements also cite the Association of Medical Research Charities, whose investments of £1.9bn account for half of publicly funded medical research nationally. That organisation has already projected a £310m shortfall in spend over the next year.

It has urged the government to secure full funding for urgent public health studies, issue clear guidance on research cost pressures, and create a “research workforce retention scheme” allowing departments to claim employment costs for research staff otherwise not funded.

The report concludes that “failure to address the issues will result in significant and rapid loss of highly skilled workforce and infrastructure that has been carefully constructed over the past 10 years”.

A DHSC spokeswoman said: “We are considering the issues and recommendations raised in the impact statement.

“We will respond to UKRD’s points in due course.”