OpenSAFELY: The impact of COVID‐19 on azathioprine, leflunomide and methotrexate monitoring, and factors associated with change in monitoring rate

The OpenSAFELY Collaborative, Andrew D. Brown*, Louis Fisher, Helen J. Curtis, Milan Wiedemann, William J. Hulme, Victoria Speed, Lisa E. M. Hopcroft, Christine Cunningham, Ruth E. Costello, James B. Galloway, Mark D. Russell, Katie Bechman, Zeyneb Kurt, Richard Croker, Chris Wood, Alex J. Walker, Andrea L. Schaffer, Seb C. J. Bacon, Amir MehrkarGeorge Hickman, Chris Bates, Jonathan Cockburn, John Parry, Frank Hester, Sam Harper, Ben Goldacre, Brian MacKenna

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Downloads (Pure)


The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented pressure on healthcare services. This study investigates whether disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) safety monitoring was affected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A population-based cohort study was conducted 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. 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 evaluate the causes of the differences identified between groups.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalBritish Journal of Clinical Pharmacology
Early online date8 Apr 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Apr 2024

Cite this