The Oxford RCGP’s Research and Surveillance Centre (RSC) has written to the nearly 4,000 GP practices in England that use EMIS Health systems, asking them to contribute patient data to help researchers develop a better understanding of how the pandemic is impacting on general practice.
The researchers, based at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care at the University of Oxford, said that as part of the project they would also be aiming to provide feedback to practices about the spread of the virus.
Some of the practices are also being asked to take part in rapid clinical trials of medicines to assess whether they can help alleviate symptoms and reduce the duration of the virus. Researchers are aiming to get 3,000 patients signed up to the first trial, which will be the first national clinical trial into COVID-19 treatment run in the community.
Peak of pandemic
The research team will use the general data provided by practices to investigate the spread of COVID-19, aiming to identify when the pandemic peaks, which they said could help inform government strategy around social distancing and the ongoing lockdown in the UK.
Along with patient data, practices have also been asked to supply samples from symptomatic patients and extra blood samples from asymptomatic patients who attend for routine blood tests.
EMIS said that providing data would require 'minimal effort' from practices because data collection would be done via automated systems. The company's chief medical officer Dr Shaun O'Hanlon said that practices should be assured that 'all patient data will be protected using well established ethical, legal and clinical principles'.
'Daily insight from frontline GP practices will allow us to track closely this public health emergency as it develops. While we know that this is an additional request at a time of unprecedented pressure, we hope [practices] will come forward to support this important national initiative,' Dr O'Hanlon added.
Professor Simon de Lusignan, director of the Oxford RCGP RSC said: 'We already have around 100 practices taking part in the national flu virology surveillance scheme every year in collaboration with Public Health England. We urgently need to increase this. Without the support of more practices we will struggle to recruit the numbers needed for clinical trials.'
Professor Richard Hobbs, head of the Oxford department of primary care said: 'This has been an extraordinary collaborative effort to compress many months of work into a few days. We are finalising the first national COVID-19 trial outside of hospital, led by Professor Chris Butler; significantly extending the only national surveillance of COVID-19 outside of hospitals; and considering efficient COVID-19 information feedback to practices.'