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Covid-19 history project given £1million

21 Aug 2020

A University team of researchers and volunteers who have been documenting NHS voices of Covid-19 since March are to join forces with the British Library thanks to a grant of nearly £1m

Natalie Parr

Dr Stephanie Snow, who leads the influential ‘NHS at 70’ project, and her team have already collected over 200 Covid-19 voices, including Nick Hart, the respiratory doctor who treated Prime Minister Boris Johnson in intensive care.

They also include Samuel Agabi a Nigerian hospital administrator  working in a London hospital, and Natalie Parr, a patient and wheelchair user accessing GP services at home.

The grant from UK Research and Innovation through the Arts and Humanities Research Council will enable Dr Snow to link up with the British Library’s oral history department to form a permanent public resource which will also inform policy and practice.

The project - called ‘NHS Voices of Covid-19’ - is supported by a diverse group of stakeholders including the NHS, the TUC, Age UK, the Stroke Association and many other health, community and heritage organisations

Other participants in the project include patients, policymakers, frontline NHS staff, young people and individuals with high-risk conditions.

Since 2017, ‘NHS at 70’ has recorded over 1,000 interviews with people across the UK about the history of the NHS and its place in everyday life and work.

But as Covid-19 began to impact on lives and communities in March, the team of 150 volunteer interviewers suspended face to face interviews.

Instead, they maintained social connections by switching to telephone interviews.

Dr Stephanie Snow from the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health said: “Covid is producing seismic shifts across lives and communities and its social significance in terms of a public health crisis is unprecedented in living memory.

“It is a watershed moment in the longer history of the NHS so we are asking how have public attitudes to the NHS changed, what does care mean and who should provide it?

“These are vital questions that we will only be able to answer if we document the effects and impacts on all our lives by capturing personal testimonies.”

Since 2017 - supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund – ‘NHS at 70’ has worked across the UK, talking to patients, staff, policymakers and the public about experiences of health and the place of the NHS in everyday life and work.

‘NHS Voices of Covid-19’ will deliver an additional 900 interview sessions which will sit within the British Library’s wider Covid-19 collecting initiative. The initiative includes other streams of Coronavirus-related content spanning broadcasting, websites and listener-generated audio, video and written accounts. Together, these collections will form a unique and rich resource documenting life during the pandemic both in the UK and globally, for both researchers and the general public.

In parallel with collecting the oral history interviews,‘NHS Voices of Covid-19’ will work with stakeholders to draw findings from the testimony through data analysis to support the development of learning resources such as briefings, engagement events, and digital resources that can inform policy and practice in the immediate post-Covid-19 period.

Dr Rob Perks, Lead Curator of Oral History at the British Library said: “We are delighted to be working with NHS Voices of Covid-19 to preserve for the nation these important and moving personal accounts of a key turning point in British history, and in the history of our national health service. Together they will provide a uniquely comprehensive, diverse and in-depth account of how the NHS responded to the pandemic, and situate the stories about Covid-19 within the wider context of the entire history of the NHS.”

Dr Snow added: “We are thrilled to have received AHRC funding. By building on the partnerships we’ve built through NHS at 70 we will have a unique opportunity to capture the unfolding of this global pandemic and document how it has impacted our lives and communities across the UK.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “This project is such a powerful testament to the experiences of all the people who make our national health service what it is.

“These are the voices of the people who went to work to save lives, to protect communities, and to give us care and dignity in our darkest days. These personal accounts tell the story of the NHS at a moment unlike any other, and of all the lives that have been deeply affected by this crisis. They are an essential addition to the ‘NHS at 70’ collection.

“Greater Manchester was the birthplace of the NHS, and 72 years later it remains a national service that unites us all. Never before has it faced the kinds of challenges brought about by the pandemic, and for that reason it has never been more important that we recognise and protect the NHS and its absolutely fundamental role in our society.”

Image: Patient Natalie Parr