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Why are we centralising GP data to support research during the pandemic?

We are working with the GP profession to establish a central collection of GP data for vital planning and research to support the coronavirus (COVID-19) response. Dr Peter Short, Clinical Lead GP Data at NHS Digital, explains the new approach.

Drawing of yellow computer folders connected by lines of data.

Last week, with the support of the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), we issued a Data Provision Notice to GP practices in England to inform GPs that we are establishing a central data collection of GP data for coronavirus research and planning purposes during the virus outbreak.

Some GPs have reported being overwhelmed with complex requests for data. There is a difficult balance here. Researchers, policy makers and system managers urgently need this information to fulfil their roles and carry out vital research during the outbreak — but general practices must be allowed to concentrate on the provision of frontline services.

Following the request from the BMA and the RCGP, we came up with a tactical solution to support vital coronavirus planning and research and to reduce burden on general practices so they are freed up to focus on patient care. One particular benefit to information governance leads and practice managers will be that we will take over the burden and complexity of assessing applications to access GP data, and become the responsible party and data controller for tightly controlled access and dissemination of the data.

We are using our existing GP Extraction Service (GPES) infrastructure to collect the data, which will only be used and shared for coronavirus purposes and which will be made available through the NHS Digital Data Access Request Services (DARS). All requests for access to this data, including by researchers and health and care bodies, will be made through the NHSX Single Point of Contact for COVID-19 requests process, where they will be triaged and prioritised before being passed on to DARS.

All requests will be reviewed by representatives from the BMA and RCGP, and access to record-level data will be subject to independent scrutiny by the Independent Group Advising on Release of Data (IGARD). We will only share data in response to approved requests from data applicants who have a legal basis and need it for appropriate coronavirus purposes, including improving care, and vital planning and research. All data will be shared under the terms of a robust data sharing agreement and details will be also published in the NHS Digital Data Release Register.

The data collection will provide health and social care organisations and researchers with controlled access to GP patient record-level data to support vital service planning, outcome monitoring and research for coronavirus purposes.

Accessing data through the NHS Single Point of Contact and NHS Digital will make applications smoother and more consistent for requestors including researchers, increase transparency for the public about how the data is being used and shared, and ensure the information is being handled lawfully, appropriately and securely.

Our legal power to collect and analyse the data is provided under COVID-19 Public Health Directions. The Data Provision Notice issued to all general practices in England sets out what data is being extracted and for what purposes and legally requires GP practices to provide the data. We have published a transparency notice on the NHS Digital website which explains how we will use and share the data, including the safeguards in place.

The need for the data collection will be reviewed in September 2020 and every six months thereafter until the expiry of the COVID-19 Direction, which is currently 31 March 2022.

What practices need to do

We’re asking all general practices to comply with the Data Provision Notice by registering their participation on the Calculating Quality Reporting Service (CQRS) in the normal way by Wednesday 27 May 2020.

We have also provided a template GP Transparency Notice that GP practices should publish on their website to keep their patients informed. 

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Peter Short

Dr Peter Short is the clinical lead for GP data at NHS Digital.

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Last edited: 22 May 2020 3:45 pm