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Investigating GP practices' response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Press release issued: 5 May 2020

A new project led by researchers at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Academic Primary Care will collect intelligence about the demands on GP practices, the challenges, and the creative solutions practices have developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This information will be used to support GP practices more effectively.

Rapid COVID-19 intelligence to improve primary care response (RAPCI) is a collaboration between the University of Bristol, NIHR ARC West, Bristol North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (BNSSG CCG) and One Care and funded by the NIHR School for Primary Care Research and NIHR ARC West.

The pandemic has required rapid change in the way GP practices deliver consultations to meet the sudden increase in demand and ensure social distancing. In March 2020, most UK GP practices stopped making face-to-face appointments in advance. Instead, patients either phone their practice, complete an online written consultation or phone NHS 111 and because of the risk of infection, most patients are offered telephone or video consultations, instead of face-to-face.

The research team will collect information on 111 calls and GP appointments for the one million patients in Bristol North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. They will examine how many calls were received from particular types of patients (for example by age, or with certain long-term conditions) and the type of call, in order to highlight areas of need. They will also conduct brief regular interviews with staff at selected GP practices to understand the challenges, the innovations practices have put in place and what can be done to support practices further to meet demand during the pandemic.

Dr Mairead Murphy from the Centre for Academic Primary Care at the University of Bristol, co-lead of the study, said: "The current situation is an opportunity to rapidly research how GP practices respond to the pandemic in the way they manage demand and implement alternatives to the face-to-face consultation. This is of interest regionally, nationally and internationally and we hope this will enable innovation to be shared among general practice, and with other health systems to improve their response to the pandemic."

Dr Jeremy Horwood, from the Centre for Academic Primary Care at the University of Bristol and NIHR ARC West, who is also co-leading the study, added: “Responding to the new norm of social distancing, GP practices have had to rapidly adopt new ways of delivering care remotely. This is a huge change, with primary care being transformed in a matter of weeks. Most appointments are now happening over the phone or online, when previously 8 out of 10 would have been face to face. It is vital we examine how GP practices are dealing with these changes and what can be done to support them to safely delivering care to patient during the current crisis."

Further information

About the Centre for Academic Primary Care
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

Support University of Bristol COVID-19 research 
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About the National Institute for Health Research
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy.

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR supports applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using UK aid from the UK government.

See: NIHR's response to COVID-19

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