GP on computer
Long COVID cases are under-reported in NHS GP records.

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GP practices urged to join COVID-19 research

The Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) have joined forces with clinical system supplier EMIS Health to urgently recruit as many GP practices as possible for COVID-19 research.

Today, the Oxford RCGP’s Research and Surveillance Centre (RSC) has written to nearly 4,000 GP practices in England using EMIS Health systems asking them to contribute patient data to help them develop a deeper understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic in general practice.

The data – shared under strict governance guidelines – will enable researchers to understand the spread of COVID-19, including tracking when it peaks and helping to inform government strategy around measures such as social distancing and lockdown. Practices are also being asked to support public health surveillance by supplying samples from symptomatic patients and providing extra blood samples from asymptomatic patients having routine blood tests. Some practices are also being asked to take part in rapid clinical trials of selected medicines to reduce the duration and severity of the virus. The first trial will need up to 3,000 patients. As many practices as possible are needed to support the work.

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.'

The programme will form a key part of the UK approach to clinical trials of selected medicines to reduce the duration and severity of the virus.

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.'

Dr Shaun O’Hanlon, Chief Medical Officer at EMIS Group said, “Data is a powerful weapon in the fight against coronavirus. Daily insight from frontline GP practices will allow us to track closely this public health emergency as it develops and enable vitally important research into treatments and a vaccination.

'We are very grateful to the many EMIS Health practices who already share data for research; this is done via automated systems, so it requires minimal effort. Practices should be reassured that EMIS Health, Oxford University and the RCGP take their responsibilities around data governance seriously and all patient data will be protected using well established ethical, legal and clinical principles.

While we know that this is an additional request at a time of unprecedented pressure, we hope they will come forward to support this important national initiative.'