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BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted healthcare activity across a broad range of clinical services. The NHS stopped non-urgent work in March 2020, later recommending services be restored to near-normal levels before winter where possible. AIM: To describe changes in the volume and variation of coded clinical activity in general practice across six clinical areas: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, mental health, female and reproductive health, screening and related procedures, and processes related to medication. DESIGN AND SETTING: With the approval of NHS England, a cohort study was conducted of 23.8 million patient records in general practice, in situ using OpenSAFELY. METHOD: Common primary care activities were analysed using Clinical Terms Version 3 codes and keyword searches from January 2019 to December 2020, presenting median and deciles of code usage across practices per month. RESULTS: Substantial and widespread changes in clinical activity in primary care were identified since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with generally good recovery by December 2020. A few exceptions showed poor recovery and warrant further investigation, such as mental health (for example, for 'Depression interim review' the median occurrences across practices in December 2020 was down by 41.6% compared with December 2019). CONCLUSION: Granular NHS general practice data at population-scale can be used to monitor disruptions to healthcare services and guide the development of mitigation strategies. The authors are now developing real-time monitoring dashboards for the key measures identified in this study, as well as further studies using primary care data to monitor and mitigate the indirect health impacts of COVID-19 on the NHS.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Gen Pract

Publication Date



COVID-19, electronic health records, general practice, primary health care