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Eastern GPs play major role in research during the pandemic

In the background, in soft focus, a person's hands can be seen holding a pen and in the foreground is a keyboard with a stethoscope on it.

GPs across the East of England played a key role in finding ways to treat people with COVID-19 and other conditions over last year, data from the 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 Alice Shiner, partner at the Lawson Road Surgery in Norwich, said: “As we watched COVID-19 begin to exact its toll at the start of 2020, our practice was desperate to do something to help. So, we jumped at the chance to take part in the PRINCIPLE study.

“The absence of proven treatments for GPs to recommend to our patients with COVID-19 has been frustrating, but PRINCIPLE is helping to steer our course. It is very satisfying to have played a small role in this hugely important trial.”

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.