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12 things we've learned about COVID-19 from health data research

Six months on from the start of the first UK lockdown, Health Data Research UK is highlighting the vital role that the UK’s health data research community has played in responding to COVID-19, and the importance of including all groups in society as the pandemic continues.

Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) and the broader health data community have been at the forefront of the response to the pandemic, providing critical insights to support policymakers and the NHS.

The COVID-19 response has demonstrated the absolute necessity for timely, secure access to health data across all aspects of the disease from informing public policy to understanding the impacts on health and society, mapping the spread of the virus and testing new treatments, as well as revealing the knock-on effects of the pandemic on care for other conditions such as cancer and heart disease. 

Many of the datasets underpinning these findings are now discoverable through the Health Data Research Innovation Gateway. This is a new online portal allowing researchers to find detailed information about nearly 500 datasets held by organisations across the UK including members of the UK Health Data Research Alliance - a collaborative group of 33 major health, care and research organisations including NHS trusts, charities, institutes and registries.

Visit the Health Data Research Innovation Gateway

12 things we've learned

Here are just 12 things we’ve learned so far about COVID-19 from health data research: 

  1. Around 40 strains of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus came to the UK, mainly from Europe - read more on the COG-UK Consortium website
  2. Data from millions of COVID Symptom Study app users showed that loss of smell is a key symptom of COVID-19, leading to a change in NHS guidance - read more on the HDR UK website
  3. Men, older people and those with underlying health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, are more at risk of worse outcomes from COVID-19 - read more on the UCL website
  4. People from Black, South Asian and minority ethnic groups in the UK are more likely to get COVID-19 and are at greater risk of worse outcomes - read the story on the HDR UK website
  5. Obesity increases the chances of falling seriously ill or being hospitalised with COVID-19, even for younger people - read the blog on the C-19 Covid Symptom Study website
  6. Pregnant women aren’t at greater risk from severe COVID-19 overall, although Black and ethnic minority women and those with underlying health problems are more likely to be hospitalised - find out more on the NIHR website
  7. COVID-19 outbreaks are more likely in large care homes, especially those with lower staffing levels - read the story in the Guardian
  8. Children and young people become less seriously ill with COVID-19 than adults, and severe disease is rare - read the article on the Imperial College London website
  9. The RECOVERY trial showed that the drug dexamethasone cuts deaths by up to a third in severely ill COVID-19 patients while hydroxychloroquine and the antiviral combination lopinavir-ritonavir don’t help - health data was a vital part of the trial - find out more on the HDR UK website
  10. Young people have suffered most with mental health issues, such as anxiety, during lockdown - read HDR UK's interview with Dr Alex Kwong
  11. There could be between 7,000-18,000 additional cancer deaths in the next year directly and indirectly due to COVID-19 - read more on the HDR UK website
  12. Around 5,000 heart attack sufferers might have missed out on life-saving hospital treatment as a result of the pandemic - find out more from the British Heart Foundation
Graphic lists the 12 things we know about COVID-19 from health data surrounding an image of a virus

Facts and figures

The UK’s health data research effort in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented in its scale and scope, including: 

  • 110 health data research questions prioritised by the National Health Data Research COVID Response Team - find out more from HDR UK
  • 56 million GP records made safely and securely available for essential COVID-19 research and response - read more from NHS Digital
  • More than 4.2 million users of the COVID Symptom Study app, revealing new symptoms and regional hotspots - the study data is securely accessible via BREATHE through the Health Data Research Innovation Gateway. Visit the Gateway.
  • More than 48,000 SARS-CoV-2 viral genomes analysed by the COG-UK Consortium. Visit the COG-UK Consortium website.
  • More than 12,000 patients from 176 NHS hospitals enrolled in the RECOVERY COVID-19 treatment trial - visit the RECOVERY study website
  • 80,000 patients recruited into the ISARIC-4C study, finding out how COVID-19 is affecting people across the UK - visit the ISARIC-4C website
  • More than 3,900 people in the GenOMICC study, investigating how individual genetic makeup affects the severity of COVID-19 symptoms - visit the GenOMICC study website
  • 62 volunteers in HDR UK’s Patient Advisory Group, providing vital input into COVID-19 research plans - find out more from HDR UK
Graphic lists the facts and figures about COVID-19 with icons

Activity this week

Taking the theme ‘We’re all in this together’, HDR UK will be hosting a free online public event on Friday 2 October at 12.30pm. The event will bring together people from the UK health data research community to talk about the work that’s been done so far to understand COVID-19 across the UK population, and to highlight the importance of including all groups in society in health data research for COVID-19 and beyond. 

Find out more about the event on Eventbrite

HDR UK and its partners will also be running a week of activity on Twitter from 28 September to 2 October using the hashtag #HealthDataTogether, as part of National Inclusion Week.

Visit @HDR_UK on Twitter

It has been inspiring to see how the UK health data research community has come together to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, such as securing safe access to relevant datasets for researchers and policymakers, addressing ethical issues around data collection and consent, engaging patients and the public in such a fast-moving environment, and disseminating research findings in a timely way.

There is much more to do, and we will continue to work together over the coming months to make sure that health data research is used to benefit everyone and that nobody is left behind.

Caroline CakeCEO of Health Data Research UK

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