The RCGP: Research and Surveillance Centre

Published on: 11 Aug 2022

RCGP Research and Surveillance Centre

Although the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is not a research organisation, it acknowledges the importance of research in promoting and advancing the highest quality of care provided to patients. As such, the RCGP Research and Surveillance Centre (RSC) was established in 1957 as an active research and surveillance unit that collects and monitors data from over 1700 practices across England and Wales. It has since grown in size, scope, integration of microbiological testing, as well as data-linkage, making it not only the principal primary care surveillance system in England and Wales, but also the largest of all general practice sentinel networks in Europe.

RSC research is conducted in collaboration with the University of Oxford and Public Health England (PHE); the RSC and the Research Group are co-data controllers of the Disease Surveillance Programme.


Public Health Data

The core surveillance and vaccine effectiveness work are funded by PHE, whilst other disease surveillance and research is conducted in collaboration with a range of UK public health bodies, as well as some based in Europe.

The pseudonymised coded data extracted from GP practices encompasses information on:

  • Demographics

  • Diagnoses and symptoms

  • Drug exposure

  • Vaccination history

  • Laboratory tests

  • Referrals to hospital and specialist care

The RSC database is freely available, with reports on communicable and respiratory diseases in England and Wales published weekly. These include the incidence of influenza-like illness (ILI), other respiratory diseases, environmentally sensitive disorders, as well as water and food-borne diseases. This provides an early warning of changes in the incidence of common illnesses presenting to general practice surgeries, which in turn helps drive national policy and inform national strategy.

The RSC particularly focuses on influenza and has devised an Influenza Virology Scheme with approximately 300 practices partaking every year. This involves collecting nasopharyngeal samples from suspected flu patients. The aim is to confirm cases of influenza, as well as assess the impact of other diseases, and characterise vulnerable groups. This data is used by the Chief Medical Officer to know when the virus is circulating each year and also plays a major role in Europe, with the RSC providing weekly reports to the European Centre of Disease Control (ECDC).

The combination of clinical and virological data alongside vaccine exposure has furthermore enabled the estimation of influenza vaccine effectiveness; the network also partakes in numerous European influenza vaccine research consortia. Additionally, since the outbreak of COVID-19, PHE has commissioned the RCGP RSC to incorporate monitoring of COVID-19 in its virology surveillance scheme.


Support for Research Teams

The general practice research database can also be used as a resource for research teams to conduct all kinds of surveillance studies. The types of support offered by the RCGP RSC is summarised below (Table 1).

What the RCGP RSC offers

Near real-time England population health data

Up-to-date, twice-weekly data extractions

Longitudinal and representative data

The RCGP RSC is the oldest sentinel network in Europe and is representative of the English population on a variety of domains, both demographic and clinical.

High quality-assured data

RSC practices receive continuous support and training by a dedicated team of Practice Liaison Officers. Practice members also have access to personalised dashboard, which shows an aggregated version of their data by week and compared with the rest of the network.

Data linkage capability

The RSC team has the capability to link to numerous other health datasets, via pseudonymised NHS numbers. NB: researchers must obtain other datasets separately

Direct link with our practices

Our Practice Liaison team has direct links with our practices, who are willing to administer questionnaires, take biological samples, put on focus groups, and take part in trials. The network can participate in research, quality improvement and surveillance beyond providing data.

Concierge services

These will be tailored to your needs and will help you prepare and fast-track your data application. 

Table 1: What the RCGP RSC offers.


Joining the RCGP RSC Network

There is no cost associated with joining the network; in fact, it may increase practice revenue via research and quality improvement exercises enabled by the data dashboards and eLearning. As a member of the RSC, you will be contributing to Public Health data and help inform near time decision making relating to pandemics. Participation in wider primary care research activity will be remunerated accordingly. Lastly, getting involved will help you learn about your own workload and access help and support.

The RCGP RSC network is always looking to recruit more GP practices across the nation. Current and upcoming research opportunities which practices can partake in are outlined on their webpage.