Local GPs Play Major Role In Research During The Pandemic

GPs in Suffolk and Essex played a key role in finding ways to treat people with COVID-19 and other conditions over last year, data from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) show.

Research staff at GP practices across the East of England ran 38 studies from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021, resulting in the enrolment of 22,812 volunteers taking part in clinical trials.

GP teams are instrumental in delivering research into many conditions every year, including diabetes, stroke and heart disease, but last year saw their focus widen to helping find treatments for COVID-19. This led to a ground-breaking discovery that a commonly-used, inexpensive asthma drug may shorten the recovery time for people over the age of 50 with early COVID-19 symptoms.

Results from the PRINCIPLE (Platform Randomised trial of INvestigations against COVID-19 In older PeopLE), funded by the NIHR, showed that people aged 50 or over with early or mild COVID-19 symptoms who inhaled budesonide twice a day, for two weeks, had a shortened recovery time by an average of three days.

Recruitment for PRINCIPLE is still ongoing and participants can join from anywhere in the UK, either online, over the phone or via a healthcare professional, and without needing face-to-face visits with the trial team in Oxford. It is currently the only COVID-19 trial being managed by GP practices and surgeries across the country.

In the East of England, over 220 primary care practices are involved in the PRINCIPLE study, having recruited over 300 volunteers to date. The study, led by the University of Oxford, is investigating a number of potential COVID-19 treatments which may help people to recover at home, preventing serious illness and hospitalisation.

Dr Paul Driscoll, senior partner at Haven Health Surgery in Felixstowe, said: “It is great for local general practices to be involved in an innovative study looking at possible treatments that we can use in the community to manage COVID-19 and we’re delighted that we now have something to offer patients we see in our practice.”

Dr. Paul Driscoll

Dr Richard West MBE, senior partner at Woolpit Health Centre in Bury St Edmunds, said: “I am really pleased that the research that we have been involved in has improved outcomes for my patients. It is gratifying to know that our practice has helped in the discovery of an intervention that can help shorten the length of time patients suffer from COVID-19. Hopefully this is another piece in the jigsaw that will allow us to return back to a normal life.” 

Budesonide is a corticosteroid commonly used around the world in inhalers and is one of several existing medications that have been investigated in the PRINCIPLE Trial. 

PRINCIPLE has also discovered that azithromycin and doxycycline, two commonly used antibiotics, are not effective in reducing time for recovery or risk of hospital admission from COVID-19.

To find out more about the study and the criteria for participation, visit the PRINCIPLE trial website. More information about taking part in research and other opportunities to take part in COVID-19 research can be found at www.bepartofresearch.uk

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