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Statement on British Psychological Society’s role in the Covid pandemic response

05 February 2021

The British Psychological Society has recently received communications raising concerns about the role of psychologists in the response to the Covid pandemic in the UK, particularly in relation to promotion of behavioural measures to prevent the spread of the SARS-Cov-2 virus.

We will not address every point raised individually but would refer members to the extensive range of guidance produced within which rationales are stated. However, we would like to take this opportunity to clarify the role of the society in relation to the Pandemic.

The British Psychological Society is a professional body and learned society that creates a forum for its 65,000 members to support their broad range of psychological activities in practice, research, and education with the ultimate aim of benefit to the public, as specified in our Royal charter. Since 2009, the society has not had a regulatory function when this role passed to a statutory body the Health and Care Professions Council.

In March 2020, we established the Covid Coordinating Group to rapidly bring together expertise from across the society to work within eight separate workstreams  with the single aim of maximising the positive contribution of psychology and psychologists to managing the impact of the Covid pandemic. The group’s focus is both directly in terms of understanding the impact of the disease and in terms of managing its wider effects. Through this Group, we have now provided over a hundred separate outputs including guidance for practitioners and professionals, governments, health agencies, schools and teachers and other organisations.

We’ve also developed resources for people and their families directly affected by Covid, including those who have been affected by confinement and changes to work, those who have been bereaved, key workers and their children and the general public. Of course, in addition to the work of the co-ordinating group, individual networks have also undertaken valuable work within specific areas and our member magazine, The Psychologist, has also hosted hundreds of contributions addressing many different perspectives on the pandemic.  

This guidance has been developed through hundreds of committed members reviewing and evaluating relevant psychological scientific literature and also drawing on their own extensive professional experience. There are of course multiple perspectives across these areas which were discussed by diverse groups of psychologists with expertise in multiple areas in order to arrive at consensus positions. This work goes relatively unnoticed and unrewarded as it is less visible than the personal opinions expressed on social media, but it has made an immense contribution to the pandemic and we would like to take this opportunity to thank all those members who have contributed to this work in one form or another.

Obviously, as an independent professional body, the society does not directly control public health activities nationally or locally, but we have worked closely with public health and NHS bodies and other organisations nationally, locally and internationally to help ensure our work can be utilised.

From the outset, the Coordinating Group has been focused on both the serious harms from the disease itself and the risks of the measures used to manage the disease. Of the former, the most stark of course is the mortality rate, which is now over 100,000, the fifth highest of any country, but also the persistent effects ('long Covid'), the effects on bereaved families and the serious impact on health and care staff. The latter includes psychological risks associated with health messaging, the effects of confinement and restricted access to support.

However, we have not seen these aspects as in opposition, they are both effects of the pandemic. Indeed, countries that have managed the pandemic more successfully than the UK have done so not by trading one off against the other but by proactively addressing both. Throughout our work we have been mindful of the need to consider both the population as a whole and also that the effects of the pandemic are not equitable and hit some groups harder than others.

While we are optimistic that the horrendous toll the pandemic has taken on the UK is now waning as a result of behavioural prevention measures and the roll out of the vaccines, it is clear that the effects of the pandemic on the UK will remain for a much longer period.

As a society, we remain committed to facilitating the positive contribution of psychologists to tackling this pandemic, by working together for the public good and looking towards the guided light of our values of scientific rigour, respect for diversity, and compassion.

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