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Background The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted healthcare activity globally. The NHS in England stopped most non-urgent work by March 2020, but later recommended that services should be restored to near-normal levels before winter where possible. The authors are developing the OpenSAFELY NHS Service Restoration Observatory , using data to describe changes in service activity during COVID-19, and reviewing signals for action with commissioners, researchers and clinicians. Here we report phase one: generating, managing, and describing the data. Objective To describe the volume and variation of coded clinical activity in English primary care across 23.8 million patients’ records, taking respiratory disease and laboratory procedures as key examples. Methods Working on behalf of NHS England we developed an open source software framework for data management and analysis to describe trends and variation in clinical activity across primary care EHR data on 23.8 million patients; and conducted a population cohort-based study to describe activity using CTV3 coding hierarchy and keyword searches from January 2019-September 2020. Results Much activity recorded in general practice declined to some extent during the pandemic, but largely recovered by September 2020, with some exceptions. There was a large drop in coded activity for commonly used laboratory tests, with broad recovery to pre-pandemic levels by September. One exception was blood coagulation tests such as International Normalised Ratio (INR), with a smaller reduction (median tests per 1000 patients in 2020: February 8.0; April 6.2; September 7.0). The overall pattern of recording for respiratory symptoms was less affected, following an expected seasonal pattern and classified as “no change” from the previous year. Respiratory tract infections exhibited a sustained drop compared with pre-pandemic levels, not returning to pre-pandemic levels by September 2020. Various COVID-19 codes increased through the period. We observed a small decline associated with high level codes for long-term respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Asthma annual reviews experienced a small drop but since recovered, while COPD annual reviews remain below baseline. Conclusions We successfully delivered an open source software framework to describe trends and variation in clinical activity across an unprecedented scale of primary care data. The COVD-19 pandemic led to a substantial change in healthcare activity. Most laboratory tests showed substantial reduction, largely recovering to near-normal levels by September 2020, with some important tests less affected. Records of respiratory infections decreased with the exception of codes related to COVID-19, whilst activity of other respiratory disease codes was mixed. We are expanding the NHS Service Restoration Observatory in collaboration with clinicians, commissioners and researchers and welcome feedback.

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The OpenSAFELY Collaborative