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Surgical research community driving the fight against COVID-19

Professor Peter Hutchinson

01 Jun 2020

Professor Peter Hutchinson

Professor Peter Hutchinson is the Director of Clinical Research at the Royal College of Surgeons of England. Prof Hutchinson is also the Head of the Division of Academic Neurosurgery at the University of Cambridge. In this blog series, Peter highlights the importance of the newly launched COVID Research Group, which aims to support and coordinate major studies investigating the impact and challenges of COVID-19.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) has a strong track record in delivering research of a basic, translational and clinical nature across a wide range of surgical specialties. The Fellowship Scheme has supported 800 fellows over 26 years, driving studies that have changed practice and grown a generation of surgeons who are passionate about research. The Surgical Trials Initiative, made possible with support from key partners including Surgical Trials Centres, surgical specialty leads and surgical chairs, has led to an incredible growth in the number of surgical clinical trials that have answered fundamental questions in terms of best treatment.

At the start of 2020, the research team were continuing to pursue these objectives and then COVID-19 hit the world. The impact of this virus has been enormous in terms of its effect on patients, their families, healthcare professionals and society as a whole. As the number of cases of this coronavirus infection began to increase, the surgical research community responded with an increasing number of studies addressing important questions. This began with a small number of investigators but has now grown into a large surgical research initiative.

In order to assist in recruitment and funding for what is now in excess of 20 surgical research initiatives, we have founded the RCS COVID Research Group. The group assists in the coordination of studies, which include major international cohort studies investigating the outcomes of COVID-19 infected patients undergoing surgery, the impact of COVID-19 on cancer treatment pathways and the impact on healthcare professionals in terms of understanding the risks of surgery. There are a number of specific projects addressing the impact of COVID-19 on appendicitis in children and adults, the additional impact on the elderly and frail, and the impact on an emergency service provision in relation to plastic surgery and neurosurgery. Projects include addressing the impact in high-, middle- and low-income countries. More specific work includes competitions to create novel personal protective equipment (PPE) and how we can learn more about the risks of viral transmission during surgery.

The RCS COVID Research Group is happy to assist in endorsing studies, obtaining funding and with recruitment. The group meets weekly to address the progress of projects within the portfolio and to welcome new projects. It is astonishing how quickly studies have developed, been approved by regulatory authorities, been delivered and already submitted for publication in high impact journals.

We have already learnt many lessons which continue to be valuable in terms of research delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic and we hope will also translate into improvements in the delivery of research when this is over. We also anticipate that the work of the group will provide data to assist in what is now becoming the greatest challenge: the recovery phase of how we return to delivering emergency and elective practice.

If you are interested in the activities of the group, please contact Murat Akkulak. We look forward to working with you to improve the management of patients during this very difficult time.

'As the number of cases of this coronavirus infection began to increase, the surgical research community responded with an increasing number of studies addressing important questions.'

                                          RCSEng COVID Research Group

This blog is from our series COVID-19: views from the NHS frontline. If you would like to write a blog for us, please contact

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