In the UK, the seasonal flu epidemic kills and average of 600,000 people each year, but this can fluctuate significantly, especially in pandemic years. However, capturing enough data to predict an outbreak is difficult due to the unpredictable nature of the influenza virus. Many factors can influence the length and severity of an outbreak. These can vary from what type of influenza viruses are spreading and the peak times of an outbreak, to whether scientists can offer a vaccine compatible with the right virus. Furthermore, as the influenza virus adapts and mutates, every solution must be provided on a case-by-case basis.
Since 1967, the Royal College of General Practitioners Research and Surveillance Centre (RCGP RSC) network has been actively monitoring incidents of influenza, alongside other diseases, by collecting anonymised data from around 200 volunteer GP practices. This data enables the NHS to find spikes of outbreaks during the different seasons of the year, to assess their effectiveness and support vaccination programmes.
While the quality and accuracy of the UK’s medical records is high, factors such as the structure of GP appointments and human input can lead to inconsistencies. These constraints can limit data quality in computerised records, which in turn limit the knowledge we can glean from the retrospective data.