During winter primary care services such as GP’s surgeries usually experience increased patient demand. This has many causes, including cold weather and peaks of common infections which also affect primary care staff. Primary care services are put under increased pressure as a result which can influence the care they provide. This is especially true now, as health and care services are also dealing with the continued effects of COVID-19.
Because people rely on primary care services for initial contact, diagnosis, treatment and coordination of care, they could be negatively impacted if their local GP surgery is overwhelmed during winter. This could also have an impact on other parts of the health service because someone who cannot get an appointment with their GP might be more likely to go to an emergency department instead.
Identifying early warning signs that a GP surgery is under pressure means we might be able to put plans in place earlier to minimise any negative effect on patients
We want to investigate if we can identify and use patterns in data routinely collected by GPs to measure pressure on services. For example, if a practice is overwhelmed, it might carry out less routine or non-urgent tasks.
We also want to explore how those measures of pressure vary between different practices over time. In addition, we will investigate whether patients experience worse outcomes by going to emergency departments when a practice is overwhelmed.
We will use data routinely collected by GPs to find patterns showing us that a surgery might be under increased pressure. Our research will use the OpenSAFELY platform, which holds the electronic health records of nearly 24 million people in England
We would like to develop and test algorithms that can identify service pressure early on and alert both primary care staff alongside other health and care systems so that they can respond in a way that reduces adverse consequences.