CSO Festive Message 2020
22nd December 2020
Euan Dick, Head of the Chief Scientist Office (CSO) reflects on 2020 as one of the most challenging and transformative years for research, paying tribute to the incredible commitment, resilience and talent of the research community across Scotland.
“Last year, just three months into my post as Head of the Chief Scientist Office I used my festive message to highlight the critical importance of research in supporting advances in healthcare, improving patient outcomes and contributing to sustainable economic growth.
Entering a new decade, in such a critical role, I was motivated by the opportunity to harness the vast strengths and assets that make Scotland a world-leading location for research; and work with colleagues to extend our ambitious research portfolio to help tackle some of Scotland’s toughest health challenges.
Never could I have anticipated the emergence of COVID-19, and with it the biggest challenge the NHS has ever faced. This global pandemic has had an impact on every facet of life as we know it. While we each battle the personal challenges the pandemic has presented, the professionalism, commitment, energy and resilience of the research community has endured throughout.
The first case of coronavirus in Scotland was only at the beginning of March. Since then almost 100 COVID-19 studies have been delivered at 258 individual sites* with over 23,000 participants across Scotland.
Working collaboratively with our partners across the UK nations, drug trials, vaccine trials, clinical studies, testing new diagnostics and observational studies have helped to improve our understanding and treatment of COVID-19. These studies have been set up at pace, in an incredibly challenging environment and my thanks go to each and every individual involved. It has been a true team effort and delivered some landmark achievements, which are rapidly translating into vital vaccines, treatments and tests.
Described as ‘a bright light in a very dark time for the country’, this research has offered hope to millions. During such busy and difficult times it can be challenging to step back and reflect on accomplishments, but it is imperative that we do and gain continued strength and motivation from what has been achieved as we continue to support the fight against COVID-19, and ensure our non COVID-19 research can be restarted as soon as it is safe to do so.
Reflecting on some of these achievements; we understand this virus more than at the start of the pandemic. We now have treatments, an approved vaccine and a continuing portfolio of research, including on the longer-term effects of COVID-19 on physical and mental health and wellbeing.
The scientific progress is incredible but we should also reflect on the research environment that has supported our robust response. A country-wide collaborative approach has been vital, allowing us to work at scale, reduce duplication and accelerate the pace of research. Our Rapid Research in COVID-19 programme is an example of how the wider health research community in Scotland responded to help research on the pandemic with 56 projects across 15 different Scottish research institutions. The pool of research expertise in Scotland – infectious disease, respiratory, critical care - has been vital in guiding our response; and of course, the willingness of patients and the public participating in and supporting research. We are hugely grateful to them and their families.
Beyond delivery of research studies, every part of the research process has also been expedited - from approvals to ethical evaluations, prioritisation of studies, set-up and recruitment of patients. Teams have gone the extra mile to make sure that things have got done at the speed they need to.
Our vaccine studies have recruited a little under 1000 participants in the space of a few weeks and the huge effort to make all of this happen has not gone unnoticed.
Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented, it provides important lessons for the future of research in Scotland. The way the NHS operate is different and we will need to reflect and adapt our approach to research whether that be electronic consent, remote access to patients or improved use of technology.
It is a different world, but one constant evident throughout this pandemic is that research is a vital and integral part of our NHS. Restoring the strong and diverse portfolio of health and social care research Scotland offered before the pandemic is also a priority. We are grateful to the expert team guiding our approach to restart. It is a challenging task and their expertise, insight and commitment will help to ensure we emerge from this pandemic stronger.
It is difficult to quantify just how much activity has been delivered over the last year, so to the research community across Scotland, and to all our partners; on behalf of Chief Scientist Office, NHS Research Scotland Management Board and colleagues across Scottish Government my sincere thanks for everything you have done. This is a year that will be written about, taught in schools and become part of the collective memory of everyone who has lived through it; however due to your efforts and commitment we can look forward to 2021 with greater optimism.
Thank you once again and my best wishes for a safe festive season.
*(as at 21/12/2020).