Article Text

Original research
‘They could not see our eyes, they cannot see our faces, they do not know who we are and that is hard’: a qualitative interview study with staff caring for children and families in a UK specialist children’s hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic
  1. Susie Aldiss1,
  2. Faith Gibson1,2,
  3. Cecilia Vindrola-Padros3,
  4. Jo Wray2,
  5. Paula Kelly2
  1. 1School of Health Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK
  2. 2Centre for Outcomes and Experience Research in Children’s Health, Illness and Disability (ORCHID), Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  3. 3Rapid Research Evaluation and Appraisal Lab (RREAL), Department of Targeted Intervention, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Susie Aldiss; s.aldiss{at}


Objectives Despite lower rates of illness, morbidity and mortality associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection in children during the COVID-19 pandemic, their health and well-being has been significantly impacted. Emerging evidence indicates that this includes experiences of hospital-based care for them and their families. As part of a series of multisite research studies to undertake a rapid appraisal of perceptions of hospital staff, working during the pandemic, our study focused on clinical and non-clinical staff perceptions of the impact of COVID-19 on aspects of care delivery, preparedness and staffing specific to a specialist children’s hospital.

Design Qualitative study using a qualitative rapid appraisal design. Hospital staff participated in a telephone interview. We used a semistructured interview guide, and recorded and transcribed all interviews. Rapid Research Evaluation and Appraisal Lab Rapid Assessment Procedure sheets were used to share data; team-based analysis was facilitated using a framework approach.

Setting Specialist children’s hospital in London, UK.

Participants Thirty-six staff representing a range of roles within the hospital: 19 (53%) nurses, 7 (19%) medical staff and 10 (28%) other staff groups (including radiographers, managers, play staff, schoolteachers, domestic and portering staff and social workers).

Results Three overarching themes relating to staff perceptions of the impact on children and families were identified, each containing subthemes: (1) same hospital but different for everyone, (2) families paid the price and (3) the digital world. They illustrated that providing care and treatment for children and families changed profoundly during the pandemic, particularly during lockdown periods. Adaptations to deliver clinical care, play, schooling and other therapies online were rapidly put into action; however, benefits were not universal or always inclusive.

Conclusions The disruption to a central principle of children’s hospital care—the presence and involvement of families—was of critical concern to staff, suggesting a need for the specific impact of COVID-19 on children’s services to be accounted for.

  • COVID-19
  • paediatrics
  • qualitative research

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. The anonymised data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the corresponding author. The data are not publicly available due to privacy or ethical restrictions.

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. The anonymised data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the corresponding author. The data are not publicly available due to privacy or ethical restrictions.

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  • Twitter @AldissSusie, @ProfFaithG, @CeciliaVindrola, @dr_jowray

  • Contributors CV-P designed the study which was modified to the data collection site by PK, FG and JW. Data collection and analysis was undertaken by PK, FG (guarantor), JW and SA. PK, FG, JW and SA drafted the manuscript. All authors approved the final version before submission.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors. Research at Great Ormond Street Hospital is supported by the Great Ormond Street NIHR Biomedical Research Centre.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.