The ethical challenges of resetting non-Covid health services during a pandemic

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentationResearch


We have been researching the distinctive ethical issues raised by what we have called ‘the reset period’, when non-Covid services resumed as the pandemic continued in the UK. In April 2020, as the first wave of the pandemic was subsiding, the UK Government declared that non COVID-19 clinical services must resume but that capacity to manage subsequent waves of COVID-19 should be maintained. This created a unique ‘reset’ context in which it became critical to consider how ethical considerations did, and should, underpin decisions about how to restore and recover (or ‘reset’) health services. Our ‘Reset ethics’ research is exploring these ethical issues as hospitals ‘reset’ normal services alongside coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

In the crisis phases of pandemics, approaches that prioritise the greatest good for the greatest number understandably come to the fore, whereas in the reset phase, concerns for individual patients and their care resurface. It is this mediation between patient-centred care, underpinned by clinical ethics; and public health concerns, underpinned by public health ethics, that present ethical challenges. This paper considers these challenges and presents the results of our research. In the reset phase, the standards of usual patient-centred care may be unobtainable and, in these circumstances, different ethical principles and balancing strategies are needed. We will conclude by reflecting on what these should be, arguing that there needs to be a shift in how we prioritise ethical values away from the ‘usual’ patient-centred framing and towards a more distinctive integration of clinical and public health ethics.
Period21 Jul 2022
Event title16th World Congress of Bioethics
Event typeConference
LocationBasel, SwitzerlandShow on map


  • Bioethics
  • COVID-19
  • Governance
  • Public Health
  • decision-making
  • NHS