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Resilience in the face of uncertainty: early lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic

Bryce, C.; Ring, P.; Ashby, S.; Wardman, J. K.


C. Bryce

P. Ring

S. Ashby

J. K. Wardman


The transboundary dynamics of COVID-19 present an unprecedented test of organisational resilience. In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS), a talisman of collective fortitude against disease and illness, has struggled to cope with inadequate provision of virus tests, ventilators, and personal protective equipment needed to fight the pandemic. In this paper, we reflect on the historic dynamics and strategic priorities that have undermined the NHS's attempts to navigate these troubled times. We invoke the organisational resilience literature to address 'the good, the bad and the ugly' of preparedness in readiness and response to the current pandemic. In particular, we draw on Meyer's (1982) seminal work on 'adaptation to jolts', excavating current preparedness failings. We argue an overreliance on perceived efficiency benefits of 'lean production' and 'just in time' continuity planning superseded strategic redundancy and slack in the system. This strategic focus was not simply the result of a failure in foresight, but rather a failure to act adaptively on knowledge of the known threats and weaknesses spotlighted by earlier projections of an inevitable pandemic threat. In conclusion, we consider how the UK Government and NHS must now undergo a phase of 'readjustment' in Meyer's terms, in light of these failings. We suggest that independent responsibility for national future preparedness should be handed to the NHS free from political interference. This would operate under the umbrella of a national emergency preparedness, resilience and response public body, enshrined in law, and similar in governance to the current Bank of England. This will help ensure that foresight is accompanied by durability and fortitude in safeguarding the UK against future pandemic threats.


Bryce, C., Ring, P., Ashby, S., & Wardman, J. K. (2020). Resilience in the face of uncertainty: early lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Risk Research, 23(7-8), 880-887.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 13, 2020
Online Publication Date May 3, 2020
Publication Date May 3, 2020
Deposit Date Apr 28, 2020
Publicly Available Date Nov 4, 2021
Journal Journal of Risk Research
Print ISSN 1366-9877
Electronic ISSN 1466-4461
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 23
Issue 7-8
Pages 880-887
Keywords Covid-19; NHS; Coronavirus; Organisational Resilience; Emergency Preparedness [1] Cass Business School, City, University of London, UK [2] Caledonian Business School, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK [3] Vlerick Business School, Brussel, Belgium
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Additional Information This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Risk Research on 03.05.20, available online:


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