The research was carried out by studying the medical records of some 17m people on the books of gps in England and the 5,683 covid-attributable deaths therein.
GPS are the first port of call in England’s National Health Service (nhs) for any nonemergency matter, and thus hold the most complete records of patients’ health.
Studying these at this scale and degree of detail, with individual records linked up to causes of death, has never been done before.
Merely making plans to meddle with such primary-care data has been a cause of great national concern in Britain in the past.
Dr Goldacre’s research was possible only because of the incentives created by the andemic,
and the ingenuity of the group of epidemiologists and data scientists he assembled, who call themselves the Opensafely Collective.
In normal circumstances, merely obtaining permission to look at such a trove of sensitive health data would take months, perhaps years
of jumping through hoops held by ethics committees, computer-security checkers and so on.
Running the analysis and getting it published might take months more.
These are not, though, normal circumstances, and in fact it took Opensafely a mere 42 days to go from idea to publication.
Three factors made this pace possible.
The first is the existence of notices, signed by the country’s health minister, Matt Hancock,
which give a wide range of people within the nhs broad licence to have access to and process health data in connection with fighting covid-19.
These Control of Patient Information (COPI) notices make it much easier to get data wrangling done.