Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

BACKGROUND: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted the delivery of elective surgery in the United Kingdom. The majority of planned surgery was cancelled or postponed in March 2020 for the duration of the first wave of the pandemic. We investigated the experiences of staff responsible for delivering rapid changes to surgical services during the first wave of the pandemic in the United Kingdom, with the aim of developing lessons for future major systems change (MSC). METHODS: Using a rapid qualitative study design, we conducted 25 interviews with frontline surgical staff during the first wave of the pandemic. Framework analysis was used to organise and interpret findings. RESULTS: Staff discussed positive and negative experiences of rapid service organisation. Clinician-led decision-making, the flexibility of individual staff and teams, and the opportunity to innovate service design were all seen as positive contributors to success in service adaptation. The negative aspects of rapid change were inconsistent guidance from national government and medical bodies, top-down decisions about when to cancel and restart surgery, the challenges of delivering emergency surgical care safely and the complexity of prioritising surgical cases when services re-started. CONCLUSION: Success in the rapid reorganisation of elective surgical services can be attributed to the flexibility and adaptability of staff. However, there was an absence of involvement of staff in wider system-level pandemic decision-making and competing guidance from national bodies. Involving staff in decisions about the organisation and delivery of MSC is essential for the sustainability of change processes.

Original publication




Journal article


Int J Health Policy Manag

Publication Date



COVID-19 Pandemic, Healthcare Workers, Surgery, United Kingdom