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Highland Lyme disease trailblazer project to be rolled out nationwide after successful pilot as hook-up between NHS Highland, Scotland’s Rural College and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer bears fruit

By Ian Duncan

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NHS Highland's Sam Holden.
NHS Highland's Sam Holden.

A HIGHLAND-LED Lyme disease initiative will be rolled out across Scotland and England after a successful trial.

The GP-based scheme is a collaboration between NHS Highland, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and aims to capture accurate case numbers.

It also aims to make diagnosis easier and improve consistency in its management.

The Lyme Disease General Practice Sentinel Scheme, which is being funded by Pfizer, has completed its pilot phase, involving a trial in 15 GP practices in the Highlands.

Interim results have been positive and the project will be rolled out to GP practices more widely during the coming weeks.

NHS Highland project manager Sam Holden said: “Our initial results show that we can collect good quality data on Lyme disease cases in general practice.

“This means we can capture all the cases that are diagnosed by GPs based on clinical history as well as those diagnosed via laboratory blood test results, supporting evidence that the number of cases reported has, until now, represented an underestimation.”

Dr James Douglas, a GP with NHS Highland and the Sentinel Scheme Project lead clinician, said: “The pilot phase of the project indicated that the use of the tool was broadly accepted by GPs who generally found it easy to use and helpful to aid decision-making in what can be a tricky diagnostic process.

“It is important we try to support diagnosis in any way we can since Lyme can be easily cured with antibiotics if it is caught early.”

Practices taking part in the scheme receive a Lyme specific training package as well as being provided with a digital guidance and data capture tool which has been specially developed by Scottish informatics experts Albasoft and adapted and supported in England by Cegedim Healthcare Solutions.

The tool helps to guide clinicians through a consultation when Lyme disease is suspected or has been confirmed via a blood test.

Lyme disease can develop if someone is bitten by a tick infected with the Lyme causing bacteria, but it can be difficult to diagnose as patients with Lyme disease often visit their GP with a rash that can vary widely in its presentation, or with a range of vague and seemingly unrelated symptoms. Patients often have no recollection of a tick bite.

One of the main aims of the project is to gain more accurate case numbers. Lyme disease is relatively common in some areas of the UK but information on exactly how many patients are getting early stage Lyme disease each year is unclear.

Dr Douglas added: “It is important that we have a clear understanding of the scale of the problem and that we can identify risk factors associated with Lyme disease. This will help direct public education in the prevention of Lyme disease and aid early diagnosis so that people can enjoy and gain health benefits from outdoor activity while minimising the risk of Lyme.”

It is the team’s expectation that this project will give the most accurate estimate to date of the number of new cases of early Lyme disease in a sample of the UK population.

The roll-out phase of the project aims to recruit a total of 40 practices.

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