It’s a milestone no one wants to celebrate – but it’s been just over six months since the government announced a UK wide lockdown to help control the spread of Covid-19.

To mark the occasion Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) has highlighted the vital role the UK’s health data research community has playing during the pandemic.

Data collection has helped inform the government’s response to the virus and will continue to so as the country moves forward.

Caroline Cake, chief executive of HDR UK, said: “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.”

The UK’s health data research effort enabled 56 million GP records to be made securely available for Covid-19 research; understanding of new symptoms and regional hotspots from more than 4.2 million users of the Covid symptom study app; and thousands of patients enrolled in genomic and treatment trials.

Here’s 12 things learned from Covid-19 health data, according to HDR UK:

  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

“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,” HDR UK said in a statement.

Caroline Cake, along with other experts from Health Data Research UK recently took part in an episode of Digital Health Unplugged looking at the power of data during a pandemic and the lessons learned from Covid-19. You can tune into the podcast here.