Twelve things we know about COVID-19, thanks to health data research

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Twelve things we know about COVID-19, so far’, published by Health Data Research UK (HDRUK) demonstrates the absolute necessity for timely, secure access to health data across all aspects of the COVID-19, including the effects of the pandemic on care for other conditions such as cancer and heart disease.

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

  1. around 40 strains of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus came to the UK, mainly from Europe
  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
  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
  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
  5. obesity increases the chances of falling seriously ill or being hospitalised with COVID-19, even for younger people
  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
  7. COVID-19 outbreaks are more likely in large care homes, especially those with lower staffing levels  
  8. children and young people become less seriously ill with COVID-19 than adults, and severe disease is rare
  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
  10. young people have suffered most with mental health issues, such as anxiety, during lockdown
  11. there could be between 7,000-18,000 additional cancer deaths in the next year directly and indirectly due to COVID-19
  12. around 5,000 heart attack sufferers might have missed out on life-saving hospital treatment as a result of the pandemic.

Much of the data is now available via 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.

Members from the UK Health Data Research Alliance – a collaborative group of 33 major health, care and research organisations including NHS trusts, charities, institutes and registries – are among those providing datasets.

Health Data Research 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.

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

  1. 110 health data research questions prioritised by the National Health Data Research COVID Response Team
  2. 56 million GP records made safely and securely available for essential COVID-19 research and response
  3. more than 4.2 million users of the COVID Symptom Study app, revealing new symptoms and regional hotspots – the study data is securely accessible through the Health Data Research Innovation Gateway
  4. more than 48,000 SARS-CoV-2 viral genomes analysed by the COG-UK Consortium
  5. more than 12,000 patients from 176 NHS hospitals enrolled in the RECOVERY COVID-19 treatment trial
  6. 80,000 patients recruited into the ISARIC-4C study, finding out how COVID-19 is affecting people across the UK
  7. more than 3,900 people in the GenOMICC study, investigating how individual genetic makeup affects the severity of COVID-19 symptoms
  8. 62 volunteers in Health Data Research UK’s Patient Advisory Group, providing vital input into COVID-19 research plans.

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