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New project to examine blood tests in primary care

1 December 2021

A new project will investigate why blood tests are requested in primary care and how the results are managed. The project, Why Test?, is a collaboration between the Centre for Academic Primary Care, University of Bristol, the Primary Care Academic Collaborative (PACT) and NIHR ARC West.

Over the last 20 years, the number of blood tests done in GP surgeries has been going up. GPs do blood tests for several reasons, including monitoring long term conditions, or trying to make a diagnosis.

Some blood tests have evidence to justify doing them, while others are recommended in guidelines. But research evidence suggests a quarter of blood tests done by GPs may not be necessary. Unnecessary tests could lead to further blood tests, GP appointments, imaging or referrals. This is likely to increase patients’ anxiety, GPs’ workloads and NHS costs.

To better understand the impact of blood tests, research is needed to know why GPs did them and how they used the results. There isn’t a way to routinely collect this information.

They Why Test? projects aims to collect this data with the help of PACT, a UK research network of community healthcare workers, including medical students, junior doctors, GPs, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.

Initially the research team will ask PACT members in 10 practices to each look at 50 of their blood tests, as a pilot. They will then ask members from 50 practices to record 50 blood tests from each practice, allowing them to analyse around 2,500 blood tests in total.

Dr Jessica Watson, GP and NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer at the Centre for Academic Primary Care, is leading the Why Test? project. She said: “The number of blood tests in primary care has been going up for a long time. But what’s not clear is why tests are requested and how the results are used. This new project will help us work out how to improve the use of blood tests in the community to help both doctors and patients.”

Why Test? is funded by Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group.

Further information

About the Centre for Academic Primary Care, University of Bristol
The Centre for Academic Primary Care (CAPC) at the University of Bristol is a leading centre for primary care research in the UK, one of nine forming the NIHR School for Primary Care Research. It sits within Bristol Medical School, an internationally recognised centre of excellence for population health research and teaching. Follow us on Twitter: @capcbristol

About the National Institute for Health Research
The mission of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. We do this by:

  • Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care;
  • Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;
  • Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the relevance, quality and impact of our research;
  • Attracting, training and supporting the best researchers to tackle complex health and social care challenges;
  • Collaborating with other public funders, charities and industry to help shape a cohesive and globally competitive research system;
  • Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the poorest people in low and middle income countries.

NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low and middle income countries is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK government.

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