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ObjectiveTo implement complex, PINCER (pharmacist led information technology intervention) prescribing indicators, on a national scale with general practice data to describe the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on safe prescribing.DesignPopulation based, retrospective cohort study using federated analytics.SettingElectronic general practice health record data from 56.8 million NHS patients by use of the OpenSAFELY platform, with the approval of the National Health Service (NHS) England.ParticipantsNHS patients (aged 18-120 years) who were alive and registered at a general practice that used TPP or EMIS computer systems and were recorded as at risk of at least one potentially hazardous PINCER indicator.Main outcome measureBetween 1 September 2019 and 1 September 2021, monthly trends and between practice variation for compliance with 13 PINCER indicators, as calculated on the first of every month, were reported. Prescriptions that do not adhere to these indicators are potentially hazardous and can cause gastrointestinal bleeds; are cautioned against in specific conditions (specifically heart failure, asthma, and chronic renal failure); or require blood test monitoring. The percentage for each indicator is formed of a numerator of patients deemed to be at risk of a potentially hazardous prescribing event and the denominator is of patients for which assessment of the indicator is clinically meaningful. Higher indicator percentages represent potentially poorer performance on medication safety.ResultsThe PINCER indicators were successfully implemented across general practice data for 56.8 million patient records from 6367 practices in OpenSAFELY. Hazardous prescribing remained largely unchanged during the covid-19 pandemic, with no evidence of increases in indicators of harm as captured by the PINCER indicators. The percentage of patients at risk of potentially hazardous prescribing, as defined by each PINCER indicator, at mean quarter 1 (Q1) 2020 (representing before the pandemic) ranged from 1.11% (age ≥65 years and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to 36.20% (amiodarone and no thyroid function test), while Q1 2021 (representing after the pandemic) percentages ranged from 0.75% (age ≥65 years and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to 39.23% (amiodarone and no thyroid function test). Transient delays occurred in blood test monitoring for some medications, particularly angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (where blood monitoring worsened from a mean of 5.16% in Q1 2020 to 12.14% in Q1 2021, and began to recover in June 2021). All indicators substantially recovered by September 2021. We identified 1 813 058 patients (3.1%) at risk of at least one potentially hazardous prescribing event.ConclusionNHS data from general practices can be analysed at national scale to generate insights into service delivery. Potentially hazardous prescribing was largely unaffected by the covid-19 pandemic in primary care health records in England.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Medicine



Publication Date





e000392 - e000392