University of Stirling to lead 10 projects on COVID-19 impact

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The University of Stirling will lead 10 major projects investigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic after receiving almost £500,000 in funding from the Scottish Government.

The projects – announced by the Health Secretary – will be led by scientists from the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport and the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Under the programme of activity, Stirling experts will consider the impact of the virus on vulnerable children and young people across Scotland; carers and support workers; people with an alcohol or drugs dependency; those experiencing homelessness; older adults; and licensed premises.

University of Stirling Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Gerry McCormac welcomed the announcement – and praised the response of universities to the crisis.

Professor McCormac said: “University of Stirling researchers are at the forefront of efforts to inform Scotland's response to the coronavirus pandemic, understanding the impact of COVID-19 on aspects of our health, wellbeing, society and the economy.

“These ten projects – together with the wider package of investment in research at institutions across Scotland – demonstrate the critical part that Scotland's higher education sector is playing in responding to this unprecedented crisis, and the essential role of our universities in driving forward Scotland's recovery.”

Professor Judith Phillips, Deputy Principal (Research), said: “I welcome this major funding announcement from the Scottish Government – and am delighted to see that Stirling will lead 10 projects under this programme of research.

“Our experts here at Stirling can provide a vital insight into the health and social implications of the COVID-19 pandemic – and make a difference not only here in Scotland but around the world too.”

The Rapid Research in COVID-19 funding call was launched by the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist Office last month and successful applicants were chosen by an independent expert panel.

In total, 55 rapid research projects will be launched across 15 Scottish universities and institutions, to contribute to global efforts to combat the virus and its wider effects. They are in a position to begin immediately and complete within a six-month timeframe.

Principal and Vice Chancellor Gerry McCormac
University of Stirling researchers are at the forefront of efforts to inform Scotland's response to the coronavirus pandemic, understanding the impact of COVID-19 on aspects of our health, wellbeing, society and the economy.
Professor Gerry McCormac Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Stirling will lead a total of 10 projects – the most awarded to a university in the funding round – to the value of £480,707. Details of the Stirling projects, including project leads:

  • Co-design of a carer support app: connecting carers to help prevent infection and improve resilience (Dr Liz Forbat).
  • Improving the prehospital identification and management of people presenting to the ambulance service with COVID-19 symptoms (Dr David Fitzpatrick).
  • Managed alcohol programmes: Implementation of a novel intervention to help prevent infection (COVID-19) for people experiencing alcohol dependency and homelessness (Dr Tessa Parkes).
  • Sustaining the resilience and wellbeing of frontline community-based care and support workers to vulnerable older people during a time of crisis (Dr Grant Gibson).
  • Stress and mental health challenges experienced by third sector homelessness services workers during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scotland (Dr Hannah Carver).
  • COVID-19 social distancing effects on social engagement, loneliness, wellbeing and physical activity in Scottish older adults, and an exploration of potential ameliorating strategies (Professor Anna Whittaker).
  • Ambulance call-outs for psychiatric emergencies during the COVID-19 pandemic (Dr Josie Evans).
  • Understanding the health impacts of the COVID-19 response on people who use drugs in Scotland (PWUD): implications for COVID-19 infection/transmission and impacts on harm reduction, treatment and recovery (Professor Catriona Matheson).
  • Protecting the safety and wellbeing of Vulnerable Children and Young People in Scotland during the COVID-19 pandemic (Professor Jane Callaghan).
  • Examining policy options to manage the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on licensed premises and ambulance-call outs in Scotland (Professor Niamh Fitzgerald).
head shot of woman with glasses
Our experts here at Stirling can provide a vital insight into the health and social implications of the COVID-19 pandemic – and make a difference not only here in Scotland but around the world too.
Professor Judith Phillips Deputy Principal (Research)

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “Scotland is home to some of the most respected researchers and scientists in the world. COVID-19 is the biggest challenge we have faced in our lifetimes and it is vital that we capture the potential of the extraordinarily strong research base here to contribute to the global efforts to tackle and mitigate the impact of it.

“I know many academics are already thinking about how their research can be used during this national and international emergency. This funding enables universities and research institutions to immediately draw on the very best science and methodologies available to build on our understanding of this virus, develop new treatments, stop infection and support people’s mental and physical health.”

Chief Scientist for Health Professor David Crossman said: “The range of projects – both scientific subject areas and the different research institutions – that are receiving funding will help us understand many aspects of this terrible disease. The projects selected for funding all aim to give results as quickly as possible.

“Scotland is in a strong position to undertake clinical research and the response from universities and research institution to this COVID-19 research call emphatically reinforces that view.”

An army of University of Stirling staff and student nurses have answered the call to provide frontline support to NHS workers – with the students beginning work earlier this week.

In recent weeks, the University has loaned beds to Scotland’s new temporary hospital facility; donated 3D printers to aid the production of personal protective equipment; its experts have been delivering potentially life-saving advice to social workers tackling the pandemic; students have been offering educational support to school pupils and parents in the absence of classes; and Stirling Sports Union clubs have raised hundreds of pounds for the United Nations Foundation.