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BACKGROUND: The Oxford-Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Research and Surveillance Centre (RSC) is one of Europe's oldest sentinel systems, working with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and its predecessor bodies for 55 years. Its surveillance report now runs twice weekly, supplemented by online observatories. In addition to conducting sentinel surveillance from a nationally representative group of practices, the RSC is now also providing data for syndromic surveillance. OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to describe the cohort profile at the start of the 2021-2022 surveillance season and recent changes to our surveillance practice. METHODS: The RSC's pseudonymized primary care data, linked to hospital and other data, are held in the Oxford-RCGP Clinical Informatics Digital Hub, a Trusted Research Environment. We describe the RSC's cohort profile as of September 2021, divided into a Primary Care Sentinel Cohort (PCSC)-collecting virological and serological specimens-and a larger group of syndromic surveillance general practices (SSGPs). We report changes to our sampling strategy that brings the RSC into alignment with European Centre for Disease Control guidance and then compare our cohort's sociodemographic characteristics with Office for National Statistics data. We further describe influenza and COVID-19 vaccine coverage for the 2020-2021 season (week 40 of 2020 to week 39 of 2021), with the latter differentiated by vaccine brand. Finally, we report COVID-19-related outcomes in terms of hospitalization, intensive care unit (ICU) admission, and death. RESULTS: As a response to COVID-19, the RSC grew from just over 500 PCSC practices in 2019 to 1879 practices in 2021 (PCSC, n=938; SSGP, n=1203). This represents 28.6% of English general practices and 30.59% (17,299,780/56,550,136) of the population. In the reporting period, the PCSC collected >8000 virology and >23,000 serology samples. The RSC population was broadly representative of the national population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, National Health Service Region, socioeconomic status, obesity, and smoking habit. The RSC captured vaccine coverage data for influenza (n=5.4 million) and COVID-19, reporting dose one (n=11.9 million), two (n=11 million), and three (n=0.4 million) for the latter as well as brand-specific uptake data (AstraZeneca vaccine, n=11.6 million; Pfizer, n=10.8 million; and Moderna, n=0.7 million). The median (IQR) number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions was 1181 (559-1559) and 115 (50-174) per week, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: The RSC is broadly representative of the national population; its PCSC is geographically representative and its SSGPs are newly supporting UKHSA syndromic surveillance efforts. The network captures vaccine coverage and has expanded from reporting primary care attendances to providing data on onward hospital outcomes and deaths. The challenge remains to increase virological and serological sampling to monitor the effectiveness and waning of all vaccines available in a timely manner.

Original publication




Journal article


JMIR Public Health Surveill

Publication Date





COVID-19, cohort, cohort profile, computerized medical record systems, digital surveillance, general practice, health data, hospital, immunology, influenza, monitoring, outcome, primary care data, public health, representation, sampling, sentinel surveillance, serology, surveillance, syndromic surveillance, uptake, vaccination, virology, virus