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Addressing the challenges of future pandemics and epidemics (non-medical guidance)


Published: 08 October 2020

Version: 3.0 December 2022

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Clinical Academic Training Forum: Working Group to support returning clinical academics during future pandemics and epidemics

Addressing the challenges of future pandemics and epidemics


This document sets out overarching principles and practical actions in response to future significant disruption to non-medical clinical academic training due to future pandemics or epidemics, both locally or nationally. All UK institutions and organisations responsible for supporting and progressing the careers of nonmedical (and non-dental) clinical academics (for example, but not exclusively, Nurses, Midwives, Allied Health Professionals and Healthcare Scientists) should consider their future response to these issues.


The career development of clinical academics is of strategic importance to the NHS and to all funders of health-related research; an importance that has been underlined by the recent challenges of COVID-19. It is accepted that developing a clinical academic career is challenging, with a need to balance research with continued clinical development and service. It is, therefore, essential that clinical academic trainees are appropriately supported at critical stages and transitions in their careers. (Ref: University of Southampton A Cross-Funder Survey of Enablers and Barriers to Progressing a Research-Related Academic Career in the Non-Medical Health Professions)

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in extraordinary challenges for clinical services in the UK and worldwide. Clinical academic trainees, both those in full-time research and those in posts combining academic training/research with clinical service, e.g. those on the HEE/NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Programme or equivalent, responded to the health emergency in large numbers by returning to full-time clinical duties. Many have made exceptional contributions to service and/or to COVID-19 related research.

The UK Clinical Academic Training Forum (CATF) and Conference of Postgraduate Medical Deans (COPMeD) established a working group (membership below) to bring together representatives of postgraduate training, research funders, medical and dental schools, nursing, midwives and allied health professionals, clinical scientists and others across the UK to agree high-level principles to support future decision making and to support a consistent approach across the United Kingdom. These principles apply to all medical and non-medical clinical academics, with this version of the principles specifically aimed at non-medical clinical academics. Our aim was to enable local, practical and timely advice for academic trainees, their clinical and research supervisors, HEIs and their NHS or equivalent employers.


All clinical academic trainees will benefit from a considered and co-ordinated approach to managing any potential disruption to their research and clinical training/service needs due to a pandemic or a similar situation.

All parties must undertake the discussions needed in a transparent manner, following a process for a return to clinical service agreed by the local NHS R+D Director or equivalent and academic Head of Department.

It is emphasised that the return of academic trainees to support the clinical service is on a voluntary basis.

Due consideration should be given to issues of equality, diversity and inclusion and, specifically, to health, shielding or caring issues relevant to individual trainees.

Following a period of disruption trainees should be supported in their future planning and to make any necessary adjustments for their training needs

Actions for local Research and Development Directors within NHS Institutions:

To provide oversight of the process, with the aim of balancing the optimal research and clinical outcomes for trainees against the need to support exceptional NHS clinical service need.

To provide a framework for maximum flexibility for periods of academic/research training where possible.

The R+D Director, or nominated deputy, should have oversight of the process and be in discussion with HEI leads to determine whether, when and where academic trainees who volunteer should be supported to return to clinical service. This will include consideration of their specific profession, area(s) of specialism, skills and level of experience and also the time needed to suspend their research without unnecessary loss of research resources.

All trainees will be allocated a clinical supervisor and receive any required skills training during their clinical placement.

At the end of the emergency period the R+D Director will ensure that clinical academic trainees are returned to research training in a timely way, bearing in mind research training capacity in universities as well as any exceptional ongoing service need.

Actions for Universities and Research Institutes:

To provide clear host support and mentorship and infrastructure to all academic trainees to continue their career pathway with the minimum possible interruption.

To optimally manage opportunities for those on time-limited research funding and depending upon access to research infrastructure, whether laboratory or clinical.

Where a return to clinical service is anticipated, to support the trainee to suspend their research programme so as to minimise loss of data and resources.

To give particular attention to the consequences of caring responsibilities and any potential gender disadvantages in advising and supporting individual trainees.

To advise and support trainees following a period of disruption to ensure successful completion of research training.

The nominated HEI lead for academic training should work with the local NHS Institution R&D Director to ensure timely return to research training at the end of the emergency period.

Actions for Funders:

To work together from a very early stage and provide consistent communications messages.

Funders will endeavour to provide support to ensure successful completion of research training, recognising that research plans may need to change to accommodate individual and local constraints.

To support those trainees who are their fellows and provide advice on who best to contact.

Actions for Trainees:

Not to arrange any clinical placements outside of the agreed local process. Neither the return to clinical service and the subsequent return to research should occur without the approval of the R+D Director and the local HEI lead for academic training.

To carefully plan, in discussion with the R+D Director (or their nominated deputy), clinical, research supervisors, and HEI nominated lead for academic training any voluntary return to clinical service and then back to academic roles.

To discuss with their research funder regarding changes to research plans as soon as possible.

To consider whether some research activity can be continued that can add value to research experience and training during the emergency period.

These recommendations are from members of the Clinical Academic Training Forum as well as representatives from the Conference of Postgraduate Medical Deans of the United Kingdom (COPMeD), Medical Schools Council (MSC), NIHR, Medical Research Council (MRC) and Clinical Academic Roles & Careers Pathways Implementation Network (CARIN within the UK Council of Deans of Health):

Professor Paul Stewart, Chair of the Clinical Academic Training Forum & Vice President (Clinical) of the Academy of Medical Sciences

Professor Bill Irish, Postgraduate Dean HEE and COPMeD

Professor Waljit Dhillo, Dean for NIHR Academy

Professor Stewart Irvine Director of Medicine (Deputy CEO), NHS Education for Scotland

Professor Pushpinder Mangat, Medical Director, Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW)

Dr Tom Lawson, Postgraduate Medical Dean, Health, Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW)

Dr Ian Steele, Postgraduate Medical Dean/Director of Education, Northern Ireland, Medical and Dental Training Agency

Dr Katie Petty-Saphon, Chief Executive, Medical Schools Council

Dr Lisa Cotterill, CEO NIHR Academy

Professor Lorraine Harper, Associate Dean, NIHR Academy

Professor Moira Whyte, Chair, Training and Careers Group, Medical Research Council

Dr Jennifer Anderson, Head of Training and Careers, Medical Research Council

Dr Michael Dunn, Director of Discovery Research, Wellcome

Professor Jane Coad, Chair, Clinical Academic Roles & Careers Pathways Implementation Network (CARIN within the UK Council of Deans of Health)