The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented pressure on healthcare services. This study aimed to investigate if disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) safety monitoring was affected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A population-based cohort study was conducted with the approval of NHS England, using the OpenSAFELY platform to access electronic health record data from 24·2 million patients registered at general practices using TPP’s SystmOne software. Patients were included for further analysis if prescribed azathioprine, leflunomide, or methotrexate between November 2019 and July 2022. Outcomes were assessed as monthly trends and variation between various sociodemographic and clinical groups for adherence with standard safety monitoring recommendations.
An acute increase in the rate of missed monitoring occurred across the study population (+12·4 percentage points) when lockdown measures were implemented in March 2020. This increase was more pronounced for some patient groups (70-79 year-olds: +13·7 percentage points; females: +12·8 percentage points), regions (North West: +17·0 percentage points), medications (Leflunomide: +20·7 percentage points), and monitoring tests (Blood Pressure: +24·5 percentage points). Missed monitoring rates decreased substantially for all groups by July 2022. Substantial and consistent differences were observed in overall missed monitoring rates between several groups throughout the study.
DMARD monitoring rates temporarily deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Deterioration coincided with the onset of lockdown measures, with monitoring rates recovering rapidly as lockdown measures were eased. Differences observed in monitoring rates between medications, tests, regions, and patient groups, highlight opportunities to tackle potential inequalities in the provision or uptake of monitoring services. Further research should aim to evaluate the causes of the differences identified between groups.