The role of leadership in times of systems disruption: a qualitative study of health and social care integration

Leslie Curry, Adeola Ayedun, Emily Cherlin, Beck Taylor, Sophie Castle-clarke, Erika Linnander

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OBJECTIVES: To understand whether and how effective integration of health and social care might occur in the context of major system disruption (the COVID-19 pandemic), with a focus on how the initiative may overcome past barriers to integration.

DESIGN: Rapid, descriptive case study approach with deviant case sampling to gather and analyse key informant interviews and relevant archival documents.

SETTING: The innovation ('COVID-19 Protect') took place in Norfolk and Waveney, UK, and aimed to foster integration across highly diverse organisations, capitalising on existing digital technology to proactively identify and support individuals most at risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

PARTICIPANTS: Twenty-six key informants directly involved with project conceptualisation and early implementation. Participants included clinicians, executives, digital/information technology leads, and others. Final sample size was determined by theoretical saturation.

RESULTS: Four primary recurrent themes characterised the experiences of diverse team members in the project: (1) ways of working that supported rapid collaboration, (2) leveraging diversity and clinician input for systems change, (3) allowing for both central control and local adaptation and (4) balancing risk taking and accountability.

CONCLUSIONS: This rapid case study underscores the role of leadership in large systems change efforts, particularly in times of major disruption. Project leadership overcame barriers to integration highlighted by prior studies, including engaging with aversion to clinical/safety risk, fostering distributed leadership and developing shared organisational practices for data sharing and service delivery. These insights offer considerations for future efforts to support strategic integration of health and social care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e054847
JournalBMJ open
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 13 May 2022

Bibliographical note

© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2022. Re-use permitted under CC BY-NC. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.


  • COVID-19
  • Humans
  • Leadership
  • Pandemics/prevention & control
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Support


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