This site is optimised for modern browsers. For the best experience, please use Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.

Celebrating nurses and midwives as they adapt to the COVID-19 crisis


International Nurses' Day is celebrated around the world on 12 May, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth. Dr Sharon Barrett, Associate Director of Nursing at the NIHR Clinical Research Network marks this day by reflecting on the way research nurses have responded to the global pandemic.

When we set out to celebrate International Nurses Day 2020, we didn’t anticipate just how seismic the global clinical challenge of COVID-19 would be, and how it would affect the NHS. Research nurses and midwives along with other patient facing staff, have adapted with agility and speed to train and develop the necessary skills to support the NHS in the COVID-19 crisis, and this of course has included an essential response to ensuring important research happens.

For some, working from home and juggling busy workloads on top of childcare or educating small children, has become the norm. Many downed tools to support their Trust in frontline duties, by taking on different work, or working full time in intensive care, A&E or care homes. Some took on admin duties such as bed management or making the difficult phone calls to update loved ones on the status of relatives. Many of us have found ourselves out of our comfort zone at times but I have been inspired by the personal stories I have heard.

One thing is certain: clinical research has never been more visible and relevant, nor more timely. We have heard from the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty that ‘with sufficient recruitment into clinical trials, useful evidence could be available within weeks’. There is huge positivity across the system in the knowledge that research impacts clinical care and I want all nurses and midwives across the system to be in no doubt about the impact they have on our future.

Research nurses and midwives have shown how they can adapt to tackle a crisis, clearly demonstrating their enormous value within the clinical workforce whether a midwife, student nurse or have recently come out of retirement to support the NHS!

For so many nurses and midwives, supporting COVID-19 clinical trials has been their priority and we have seen a transformational approach to setting up and recruiting patients over the last eight weeks. One heartwarming story I heard recently was that, instead of research nurses being deployed to the frontline (as we have seen in the past) in one Trust, it was that wider NHS staff are being re-deployed to help support COVID-19 trials. I never thought I would see that! We have heard stories of research nurses and midwives who have been embedded within frontline care and how receptive colleagues have been to them and ‘clinical research’ with new relationships and contacts being one positive output from all of this.

On a sad note, it goes without saying that our heartfelt condolences go out to the loved ones and families of those working in the NHS who have lost their lives to COVID-19.

Since taking on the role of Associate Director for Nursing in December 2019, I have been struck by so many inspiring stories from research nurses and midwives across the country. The establishment of the NIHR 70@70 senior nurse and midwife leader programme in 2019 has already shown demonstrable value in supporting a nurse/midwife research-led care environment, even in its first year. Supporting nurse and midwife research leaders has further enabled key partnerships within the NHS and the NIHR Clinical Research Network in delivering research. It has also facilitated research career development pathways by actively linking with the wider work of the NIHR, such as through NIHR Academy.

Despite the chaos caused by the pandemic, we have also seen so much from research nurses and midwives: research work being published in journals, abstracts submitted, messages sent on social media, grant applications completed and higher degrees awarded. A true reflection on how, despite the madness, our nurses and midwives have been unrelenting in their dedication to ensure that other important work across the profession continues.

Dr Sharon Barrett, Associate Director of Nursing, NIHR Clinical Research Network


Read more about how the NIHR is contributing to the fight against COVID-19.


The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.