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BACKGROUND: The introduction of remote triage and assessment early in the pandemic raised questions about patient safety. We sought to capture patients and clinicians' experiences of the management of suspected acute COVID-19 and generate wider lessons to inform safer care. SETTING AND SAMPLE: UK primary healthcare. A subset of relevant data was drawn from five linked in-pandemic qualitative studies. The data set, on a total of 87 participants recruited via social media, patient groups and snowballing, comprised free text excerpts from narrative interviews (10 survivors of acute COVID-19), online focus groups (20 patients and 30 clinicians), contributions to a Delphi panel (12 clinicians) and fieldnotes from an online workshop (15 patients, clinicians and stakeholders). METHODS: Data were uploaded onto NVivo. Coding was initially deductive and informed by WHO and Institute of Medicine frameworks of quality and safety. Further inductive analysis refined our theorisation using a wider range of theories-including those of risk, resilience, crisis management and social justice. RESULTS: In the early weeks of the pandemic, patient safety was compromised by the driving logic of 'stay home' and 'protect the NHS', in which both patients and clinicians were encouraged to act in a way that helped reduce pressure on an overloaded system facing a novel pathogen with insufficient staff, tools, processes and systems. Furthermore, patients and clinicians observed a shift to a more transactional approach characterised by overuse of algorithms and decision support tools, limited empathy and lack of holistic assessment. CONCLUSION: Lessons from the pandemic suggest three key strategies are needed to prevent avoidable deaths and inequalities in the next crisis: (1) strengthen system resilience (including improved resourcing and staffing; support of new tools and processes; and recognising primary care's role as the 'risk sink' of the healthcare system); (2) develop evidence-based triage and scoring systems; and (3) address social vulnerability.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Qual Saf

Publication Date



COVID-19, decision support, clinical, general practice, health services research, patient safety