Gout incidence and management during the COVID-19 pandemic in England, UK: a nationwide observational study using OpenSAFELY
Russell MD., Massey J., Roddy E., MacKenna B., Bacon S., Goldacre B., Andrews CD., Hickman G., Mehrkar A., Mahto A., Rutherford AI., Patel S., Adas MA., Alveyn E., Nagra D., Bechman K., Ledingham JM., Hudson J., Norton S., Cope AP., Galloway JB.
Background: Gout is the most prevalent inflammatory arthritis, yet one of the worst managed. Our objective was to assess how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted incidence and quality of care for people with gout in England, UK. Methods: With the approval of National Health Service England, we did a population-level cohort study using primary care and hospital electronic health record data for 17·9 million adults registered with general practices using TPP health record software, via the OpenSAFELY platform. The study period was from March 1, 2015, to Feb 28, 2023. Individuals aged 18–110 years were defined as having incident gout if they were assigned index diagnostic codes for gout, were registered with TPP practices in England for at least 12 months before diagnosis, did not receive prescriptions for urate-lowering therapy more than 30 days before diagnosis, and had not been admitted to hospital or attended an emergency department for gout flares more than 30 days before diagnosis. Outcomes assessed were incidence and prevalence of people with recorded gout diagnoses, incidence of gout hospitalisations, initiation of urate-lowering therapy, and attainment of serum urate targets (≤360 μmol/L). Findings: From a reference population of 17 865 145 adults, 246 695 individuals were diagnosed with incident gout. The mean age of individuals with incident gout was 61·3 years (SD 16·2). 66 265 (26·9%) of 246 695 individuals were female, 180 430 (73·1%) were male, and 189 035 (90·9%) of 208 050 individuals with available ethnicity data were White. Incident gout diagnoses decreased by 30·9% in the year beginning March, 2020, compared with the preceding year (1·23 diagnoses vs 1·78 diagnoses per 1000 adults). Gout prevalence was 3·07% in 2015–16, and 3·21% in 2022–23. Gout hospitalisations decreased by 30·1% in the year commencing March, 2020, compared with the preceding year (9·6 admissions vs 13·7 admissions per 100 000 adults). Of 228 095 people with incident gout and available follow-up, 66 560 (29·2%) were prescribed urate-lowering therapy within 6 months. Of 65 305 individuals who initiated urate-lowering therapy with available follow-up, 16 790 (25·7%) attained a serum urate concentration of 360 μmol/L or less within 6 months of urate-lowering therapy initiation. In interrupted time-series analyses, urate-lowering therapy prescribing improved modestly during the pandemic, compared with pre-pandemic, whereas urate target attainment was similar. Interpretation: Using gout as an exemplar disease, we showed the complexity of how health care was impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. We observed a reduction in gout diagnoses but no effect on treatment metrics. We showed how country-wide, routinely collected data can be used to map disease epidemiology and monitor care quality. Funding: None.