Project Report

Learning the lessons for public health from the COVID-19 pandemic across British island communities: findings of a peer support group based on action learning


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Maggie Watts
1 FFPH, Director of Public Health & Health Strategy

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Pip Farman
2 FFPH, Public Health Specialist

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Hugo C van Woerden
3 PhD, Visiting Professor *


1 NHS Western Isles, 37 South Beach, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Scotland, UK

2 NHS Highland, Assynt House, Inverness, Scotland, UK

3 Centre for Health Science, University of the Highlands and Islands, Inverness, Scotland, UK; Institute of Nursing and Health Research, Ulster University, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK; and Centre for Rural Health, Centre for Health Science, University of Aberdeen, Inverness, Scotland, UK

ACCEPTED: 23 October 2022

early abstract:

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic was a major public health challenge for island communities. Consequently, a peer support group was set up across British islands, led by Directors of Public Health, with the aim of using an action research approach to identify and share learning to inform aspects of the management of COVID-19 that were unique to island communities.
Methods: Qualitative analysis of nine group discussions over 13 months was undertaken. Key themes were identified based on two sets of independent records of the meetings. The findings were shared with representatives of the group and refined on the basis of that feedback.
Results: Key learning points were around the importance of border control to minimise the importation of new cases, a rapid co-ordinated response to clusters of disease when these occurred, close cooperation with organisations that provide transport on and off the island, and effective communication and engagement with both local and visiting populations.
Conclusions: A peer support group was effective in providing mutual support and shared learning across quite varied island contexts. There was a sense that this had helped in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic and facilitated in maintaining a low prevalence of infection.