University of Bristol: One year on: South West researchers and businesses in the battle against COVID-19

Over the past year, up and down the UK, thousands of research and innovation projects have been publicly funded to tackle the pandemic. Researchers at the universities of Bristol, Bath and Exeter, and businesses in the South West are playing a key role in how the UK is combatting COVID-19. Their work forms part of a £550 million COVID-19 rapid investment programme by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) – the largest public funder of research and development in the UK.

The diversity of UKRI-funded projects is vast – from the world’s first COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, to projects that help us understand and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our economy, environment, education, arts sector and mental health. This funding builds on decades of public investment and research expertise which have provided the backbone to our national COVID-19 response.

Universities from across the South West have received significant UKRI funding. Researchers at the University of Bristol aims to increase understanding of infection patterns of COVID-19 in children. The CoMMinS (COVID-19 Mapping and Mitigation in Schools) project aims to design digital tools and interventions to help schools with infection control.

Staff retention is a long-established challenge for the NHS but it comes into sharper focus in the context of managing COVID-19 cases and the backlog of care. Researchers at the University of Bath are using data from NHS employee surveys to explore the impact of the pandemic on staffing and resources, including how long staff are prepared to meet the increased demands of the pandemic and what needs to change to motivate people to remain in the NHS.

In another project funded by UKRI, researchers at the University of Exeter are investigating the impact of social distancing measures on people with dementia and the family members who care for them. Questionnaires from 300 people with dementia and 300 carers will be used alongside data from an existing study on ‘living well’ with dementia to better understand the impact on symptoms and wellbeing. The findings will be used to develop a ‘Living Well Alongside Coronavirus’ toolkit.

Caroline Relton, Professor of Epigenetic Epidemiology and Director of the Bristol Population Health Science Institute at the University of Bristol, who is leading CoMMinS, said: “Our funding from UKRI was integral to the development of our project and with the re-opening of schools, there is an urgent need for mapping COVID-19 in education settings and developing tools to mitigate infection. We hope our project will help ensure the safety of children and wider community.”

Professor Charlotte Deane, COVID-19-Response Director at UKRI said: “Looking back over the past year, it’s clear that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on so many aspects of our lives, but I take more than a glimmer of hope from the extraordinary work being undertaken by researchers and businesses across the UK. These projects are just the tip of the iceberg. They show the tenacity and creativity of our research and innovation communities in the South West and beyond, who have stepped up in the most challenging of times to come together and fight back against this devastating disease.”

These projects are among 3,600 new COVID-19 projects, totalling over £554 million, being funded by UKRI across the country in response to Covid-19.

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