Author: Azeem Majeed

I am Professor of Primary Care and Head of the Department of Primary Care & Public Health at Imperial College London. I am also involved in postgraduate education and training in both general practice and public health, and I am the Course Director of the Imperial College Master of Public Health (MPH) programme.

Characteristics of children who are frequent users of emergency departments in England

Increasing pressures on emergency departments present a considerable challenge worldwide, particularly during winter. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, serious infectious disease incidence had fallen with the success of vaccination programmes. However, amidst the ongoing global pandemic pressure on hospital EDs are stretched to their limit. This can strain health resources and budgets and can result in poor clinical outcomes. Increasing demand for EDs may be driven by rising morbidity in an ageing population, poor access to primary care and increase in patient expectations. In England, in 2017/2018, there were 23.8 million  emergency department attendances, an increase of 22% since 2008/2009; rises were higher in the under-5 (28%–30%), and one-third of all British children visit an  emergency department each year. Such increases pose immense challenges to the National Health Service (NHS) amidst significant cuts in funding, given that that nearly half of the health budget is spent on emergency and acute care.

We conducted an observational study using routine administrative data. Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) data covering all attendances at NHS hospitals in England for the period April 2014–March 2017 were used. We published our study in the Emergency Medicine Journal We found that one in 11 children (9.1%) who attended an  emergency department attended four times or more in a year. Infants, boys and children living in more deprived areas had greater likelihood of being a frequent attender. We concluded that infants and children living in deprived areas have greater likelihood of being frequent attenders. Interventions that support parents and contribute to reducing avoidable emergency department attendance, particularly among infants, are crucial to provide appropriate support to users of emergency departments.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/emermed-2019-209122

COVID-19, seasonal influenza and measles: potential triple burden and the role of flu and MMR vaccines

Policy interventions aimed at reducing person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (such as hand hygiene, physical distancing and wearing face coverings) were implemented globally to minimise healthcare burden, and to allow more time for an effective treatment and successful vaccine. After months of ‘lockdown’, many countries started to ease these measures recently only to see a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths. During the winter of 2020–2021, we face the prospect of a dual burden of a COVID-19 pandemic and a seasonal influenza epidemic. However, what’s not being currently discussed is that the burden on healthcare could be further compounded by a potential surge of measles and rubella cases. This is due to: (1) a declining trend in Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine coverage accompanied by an increasing trend in Measles-Mumps-Rubella cases since 2016; and (2) disruption and suspension of Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccination campaigns in 23 countries to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Our article was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0141076820972668

Associations of Social Isolation with Anxiety and Depression During the Early COVID-19 Pandemic: A Survey of Older Adults in London

The COVID-19 pandemic is imposing a profound negative impact on the health and wellbeing of societies and individuals, worldwide. One concern is the effect of social isolation as a result of social distancing on the mental health of vulnerable populations, including older people. Our findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Within six weeks of lockdown, we initiated the CHARIOT COVID-19 Rapid Response Study, a bespoke survey of cognitively healthy older people living in London, to investigate the impact of COVID-19 and associated social isolation on mental and physical wellbeing. The sample was drawn from CHARIOT, a register of people over 50 who have consented to be contacted for aging related research. A total of 7,127 men and women (mean age=70.7 [SD=7.4]) participated in the baseline survey, May–July 2020. Participants were asked about changes to the 14 components of the Hospital Anxiety Depression scale (HADS) after lockdown was introduced in the UK, on 23rd March. A total of 12.8% of participants reported feeling worse on the depression components of HADS (7.8% men and 17.3% women) and 12.3% reported feeling worse on the anxiety components (7.8% men and 16.5% women). Fewer participants reported feeling improved (1.5% for depression and 4.9% for anxiety).

Women, younger participants, those single/widowed/divorced, reporting poor sleep, feelings of loneliness and who reported living alone were more likely to indicate feeling worse on both the depression and/or anxiety components of the HADS. There was a significant negative association between subjective loneliness and worsened components of both depression (OR 17.24, 95% CI 13.20, 22.50) and anxiety (OR 10.85, 95% CI 8.39, 14.03). Results may inform targeted interventions and help guide policy recommendations in reducing the effects of social isolation related to the pandemic, and beyond, on the mental health of older people.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.591120

Data-driven, integrated primary and secondary care for children: moving from policy to practice

Despite the best efforts of clinicians, traditional healthcare models often struggle to meet the increasingly complex needs of children and young people under the age of 18 years, as well as 21st century challenges such as obesity and mental health problems. Policy makers and clinical leaders have argued that greater integration of primary and secondary care has the potential to meet the ‘Quadruple aim’ of better population health outcomes, patient and family satisfaction, provider satisfaction and reduced costs. More integrated services and improved data sharing across organisations are key enablers of child health improvement. However, there is sparse literature on how more integrated care for children and young people might work in practice or contribute to achieving these goals. We present the experience of developing a new model for integrated care delivery for children and young people in North West London, based on a common system of clinical records or dashboards across all providers. It includes case studies that illustrate the development of strong relationships and shared learning experiences between primary and secondary care. The article was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0141076820968781

The failure of England’s Test and Trace system means we will be in and out of lockdowns for some time

Whether we will come of the 4-week lockdown on schedule will depend on how low the government’s Covid-19 strategy brings the R-value for the country. The R value is the average number of people that each new case of Covid-19 infects. If the R value for England is less than one, the daily number of cases will start to fall; and if the R value is greater than one, the daily number of cases will continue to increase. Once the R value is below one, and the daily number of cases start to fall, the number of people being admitted to hospital and the number of deaths will also start to fall.

There is though a lag before the number of hospital admissions and deaths begin to fall. This is because it can take 1-2 weeks from becoming infected before a person is unwell enough to need hospital treatment. There is then as further period of time before death. Hence, case numbers start to fall first, followed by the number of people admitted to hospital and then finally, the number of people dying from Covid=19.

The “nightmare scenario” that we will face is that the new lockdown measures are not strict enough or people do not comply with them, meaning that the R value stays above one and the numbers of cases, hospital admissions and deaths do not fall. This will mean continuing restrictions after the 4-week lockdown period ends. Even if the number of Covid-19 cases does fall to a more manageable level by the end of the lockdown, there will still be ongoing restrictions on social activities, resulting in Christmas 2020 being very different from a normal Christmas.

It’s also possible that we will see future waves of Covid-19 infection after lockdown measures are relaxed – as we saw earlier in the year – meaning that we may get further lockdowns followed by periods of relaxation of lockdown measures. Unfortunately, ever since the start of the pandemic, England’s Test and Trace system has not worked well enough to suppress local outbreaks promptly and keep the number of cases low – as we have seen in countries such as New Zealand, Taiwan and South Korea.

Hence, this cycle of lockdowns and restrictions of activities, followed by some loosening of these restrictions, may not end until we have a safe and effective vaccine that can finally bring Covid-19 under control in England and across the rest of the world. The encouraging news is that the early results about the safety and effectiveness of the new vaccines being developed for Covid-19 are very positive; and we may be able to launch a large-scale vaccine programme in the United Kingdom very soon. This vaccine programme is going to be complex and challenging to deliver but the NHS does have the expertise to do this.

Preliminary Outcomes of a Digital Therapeutic Intervention for Smoking Cessation in Adult Smokers: Randomized Controlled Trial

Tobacco smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease worldwide. Digital interventions delivered through smartphones offer a promising alternative to traditional methods, but little is known about their effectiveness. Our objective was to test the preliminary effectiveness of Quit Genius, a novel digital therapeutic intervention for smoking cessation. Our research was published in the journal JMIR Mental Health.

We used a 2-arm, single-blinded, parallel-group randomized controlled trial design. Participants were recruited via referrals from primary care practices and social media advertisements in the United Kingdom. A total of 556 adult smokers (aged 18 years or older) smoking at least 5 cigarettes a day for the past year were recruited. Of these, 530 were included for the final analysis. Participants were randomized to one of 2 interventions. Treatment consisted of a digital therapeutic intervention for smoking cessation consisting of a smartphone app delivering cognitive behavioral therapy content, one-to-one coaching, craving tools, and tracking capabilities. The control intervention was very brief advice along the Ask, Advise, Act model. All participants were offered nicotine replacement therapy for 3 months. Participants in a random half of each arm were pseudorandomly assigned a carbon monoxide device for biochemical verification. Outcomes were self-reported via phone or online. The primary outcome was self-reported 7-day point prevalence abstinence at 4 weeks post quit date.

556 participants were randomized (treatment: n=277; control: n=279). The intention-to-treat analysis included 530 participants (n=265 in each arm; 11 excluded for randomization before trial registration and 15 for protocol violations at baseline visit). By the quit date (an average of 16 days after randomization), 89.1% (236/265) of those in the treatment arm were still actively engaged. At the time of the primary outcome, 74.0% (196/265) of participants were still engaging with the app. At 4 weeks post quit date, 44.5% (118/265) of participants in the treatment arm had not smoked in the preceding 7 days compared with 28.7% (76/265) in the control group (risk ratio 1.55, 95% CI 1.23-1.96; P<.001; intention-to-treat, n=530). Self-reported 7-day abstinence agreed with carbon monoxide measurement (carbon monoxide <10 ppm) in 96% of cases (80/83) where carbon monoxide readings were available. No harmful effects of the intervention were observed.

We concluded that the Quit Genius digital therapeutic intervention is a superior treatment in achieving smoking cessation 4 weeks post quit date compared with very brief advice.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2196/22833

Impact of Remote Consultations on Antibiotic Prescribing in Primary Health Care: Systematic Review

here has been growing international interest in performing remote consultations in primary care, particularly amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, the evidence surrounding the safety of remote consultations is inconclusive. The appropriateness of antibiotic prescribing in remote consultations is an important aspect of patient safety that needs to be addressed. We aimed to summarize evidence on the impact of remote consultation in primary care with regard to antibiotic prescribing. The research was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

In total, 12 studies were identified. Of these, 4 studies reported higher antibiotic-prescribing rates, 5 studies reported lower antibiotic-prescribing rates, and 3 studies reported similar antibiotic-prescribing rates in remote consultations compared with face-to-face consultations. Guideline-concordant prescribing was not significantly different between remote and face-to-face consultations for patients with sinusitis, but conflicting results were found for patients with acute respiratory infections. Mixed evidence was found for follow-up visit rates after remote and face-to-face consultations.

We concluded that there is insufficient evidence to confidently conclude that remote consulting has a significant impact on antibiotic prescribing in primary care. However, studies indicating higher prescribing rates in remote consultations than in face-to-face consultations are a concern. Further well-conducted studies are needed to inform safe and appropriate implementation of remote consulting to ensure that there is no unintended impact on antimicrobial resistance.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2196/23482

Maximising the impact of social prescribing on population health in the era of COVID-19

Our new paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine discusses social prescribing, the process of referring people to non-clinical community services; such as exercise classes and welfare advice, with the aim of improving mental, physical and social wellbeing.

Social prescribing has been increasingly adopted across high-income countries including the UK, United States of America, Canada and Finland. The UK’s Department of Health first introduced the term ‘social prescribing’ in 2006 to promote good health and independence, especially for people with long-term conditions. Over a decade later, in 2019, NHS England committed to funding social prescribing through link workers. Link workers receive referrals, mainly from general practitioners, and are attached to primary care networks with populations of 30–50,000 people.

In the paper, we examine the impact of different social prescribing schemes in England, from a population health perspective, that focus on individuals, communities or a combination of both. We examine the opportunities to maximise social prescribing’s impact on population health, in the era of COVID-19, by realigning social prescribing to a household model that reflects principles of universality, comprehensiveness and integration.

Excess mortality: the gold standard in measuring the impact of COVID-19 worldwide?

Our new paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine discusses excess mortality during the Covid-19 pandemic. The scale of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced policy-makers to operate with limited evidence for the relative success of different control measures.  Excess mortality is one key outcome measure. The highest excess mortality per million population is seen in Spain, followed by England and Wales. The majority of these excess deaths are caused by COVID-19, but a significant proportion are not directly related to COVID-19. In measuring the impact of COVID-19, mortality is however only one of many important outcomes. Even in ‘mild’ cases not requiring hospitalisation, symptoms can be long-lasting, and heart and lung complications are common, affecting quality of life and ability to work. Beyond the effects on health, the pandemic has disrupted all aspects of society – many countries have experienced record economic recessions, while school closures affect children’s educational attainment.

The impact of COVID-19 on academic primary care and public health

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic effect on people’s lives globally. For academics working in fields such as primary care and public health, the pandemic led to major changes in professional roles as I discuss in an article published in the JRSM. Universities across the United Kingdom closed their campuses in March 2020 and switched to remote working. Staff began to work from home and teaching of students moved online. University staff rapidly had to put in place systems for teaching, monitoring and assessing students remotely. For many universities, these changes will be in place until the end of 2020, with no return to a more normal mode of working until January 2021 at the earliest.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0141076820947053