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COVID-19 patient who took part in study welcomes NHS roll out of breakthrough drug

COVID-19 patient who took part in study welcomes NHS roll out of breakthrough drug

The roll out in the NHS of the first drug shown to improve survival for hospitalised COVID-19 patients has been welcomed by a Buckinghamshire woman who took it for a research trial.

Katherine Millbank - who spent two weeks in intensive care - spoke after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the commonly used steroid dexamethasone will save thousands of lives.

University of Oxford researchers found it reduced risk of dying by a third in ventilated patients and a fifth in those receiving oxygen only.

Based on these results, one death would be prevented by treatment of seven ventilated patients or 20 patients on oxygen. There was no benefit among those who did not need respiratory support.

Mrs Millbank, 55, took part in the Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) trial - which is testing several treatments - during two weeks in intensive care at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury. The study is supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

It is also supported by the NIHR Clinical Research Network Thames Valley and South Midlands, which helped researchers set the study up and deliver it nationally across 176 UK hospitals.

The Ledburn resident said: “It’s fantastic news that this drug works. Not just for me, but for the researchers, NHS and patients in hospital with this disease. I’m so pleased to find out that something is working to help us fight COVID-19.”

Mrs Millbank said of the onset of her illness: “I was under a thick blanket in the lounge and I was asking my husband to turn the fire on because I was shivering so much. My joints were aching, I had a cough. It was a scary time for me.”

She was taken to hospital on 26 March. “I was so ill that I don’t really remember getting in the ambulance. I still get emotional about it.”

She was placed on ventilation in ICU after testing positive for COVID-19. “The virus made me feel weak. I tried to have a sandwich and it felt like I was lifting a brick. I was exhausted after each bite.

“I remember thinking ‘I can’t fight this anymore, I’ve had enough of it’ but then I dreamt my husband was there telling me I was going to pull through, which helped me a lot.”

She volunteered as part of a nationwide drive by the NIHR to research COVID-19 that has so far involved more than 100,000 participants, including more than 500 in Buckinghamshire.

In the UK-wide trial, 2,104 patients were randomly allocated dexamethasone once a day for ten days and compared with 4,321 patients randomly allocated usual care alone. Full results will be published soon.

Mrs Millbank said: “A doctor asked if I wanted to take part in a research trial and I said ‘yes’, but I wasn’t really coherent so they called my husband for his consent.”

Husband of 32 years, Paul Millbank, 55, who had mild symptoms, said: “Knowing she was in ICU was horrible as I couldn’t see her, but I felt reassured that she was under the best care at hospital.

“A doctor called to ask if I’d be happy for them to trial existing drugs to treat her and I said ‘absolutely’. We’re all for helping medicine.”

Mrs Millbank, who left hospital on 10 April, said: “I remember coming out of ICU and seeing all of the staff clapping for me. It was very emotional.

“I’m pleased to be home and I’m improving every day. I’m going for walks with my husband and I’ve started cycling about two miles a day.

“We’re all human beings and we all want to help each other. I’d tell others to take part in these trials as anyone can catch this virus, so everyone will benefit from their results.”

More than 11,500 UK participants are involved in the trial with more than 150 at Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, which manages the Stoke Mandeville and Wycombe hospitals.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday (16 June): “This astounding breakthrough is testament to the incredible work being done by our scientists behind the scenes.

“From today the standard treatment for COVID-19 will include dexamethasone, helping save thousands of lives while we deal with this terrible virus.”

The University of Oxford’s Professor Peter Horby, the trial’s Chief Investigator, said: “This is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19. This is an extremely welcome result.

“Dexamethasone is cheap, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide.”

Dr Raha West, an anaesthetist and Principal Investigator for the trial at the trust, said: “In the absence of robust evidence on medical intervention that can benefit our COVID-19 patients, it is paramount to gather data on potential treatments as efficiently as we can.

“Here in Buckinghamshire, we are focused on recruiting to this crucial trial with the support from our colleagues and patients.”

The trial is supported by a grant to the University of Oxford from UK Research and Innovation and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and by core funding provided by NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, Wellcome, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Department for International Development, Health Data Research UK, the Medical Research Council Population Health Research Unit, and NIHR Clinical Trials Unit Support Funding.

The NIHR has nationally prioritised 48 COVID-19 studies. Find out more at