Impact of national guidance on switching anticoagulant therapy during COVID-19 pandemic

This paper describes which people were switched from warfarin to DOACs during the COVID-19 pandemic following an update in national guidance

BMJ Open Heart, 2021

Paper information

Curtis HJ, MacKenna B, et alOpenSAFELY: impact of national guidance on switching anticoagulant therapy during COVID-19 pandemicOpen Heart 2021;8:e001784. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2021-001784



Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Health Service (NHS) recommended that appropriate patients anticoagulated with warfarin should be switched to direct-acting oral anticoagulants (DOACs), requiring less frequent blood testing. Subsequently, a national safety alert was issued regarding patients being inappropriately coprescribed two anticoagulants following a medication change and associated monitoring.


With the approval of NHS England, we conducted a cohort study using routine clinical data from 24 million NHS patients in England.


20 000 of 164 000 warfarin patients (12.2%) switched to DOACs between March and May 2020, most commonly to edoxaban and apixaban. Factors associated with switching included: older age, recent renal function test, higher number of recent INR tests recorded, atrial fibrillation diagnosis and care home residency. There was a sharp rise in coprescribing of warfarin and DOACs from typically 50–100 per month to 246 in April 2020, 0.06% of all people receiving a DOAC or warfarin. International normalised ratio (INR) testing fell by 14% to 506.8 patients tested per 1000 warfarin patients each month. We observed a very small increase in elevated INRs (n=470) during April compared with January (n=420).


Increased switching of anticoagulants from warfarin to DOACs was observed at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in England following national guidance. There was a small but substantial number of people coprescribed warfarin and DOACs during this period. Despite a national safety alert on the issue, a widespread rise in elevated INR test results was not found. Primary care has responded rapidly to changes in patient care during the COVID-19 pandemic.