British scientists have discovered only the second type of drug to stop people dying from coronavirus.
Steroids costing just £ 5 per person have been found to save the life of one in ten patients treated and will now become the standard of care globally.
They were given to patients who need oxygen and could be taken as a tablet or injected into the bloodstream for sicker patients.
Seven studies coordinated by the World Health Organization followed patients on types of steroids called corticosteroids in 88 NHS hospitals.
A type of corticosteroid, called hydrocortisone, reduces the risk of death in critically ill coronavirus patients by 20%.
NHS England Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “The NHS will now take immediate action to ensure that patients who could benefit from hydrocortisone treatment do so, adding yet another weapon to the armory in the global fight against Covid-19. “.
NHS studies meant Britain was the first country to find a drug that worked to stop the deaths of Covid-19 patients, in the form of dexamethasone.
Three studies were published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showing that corticosteroids improve survival.
One from the University of Bristol saw 68% of critically ill patients survive after receiving hydrocortisone, compared with 60% who survived without them.
Steroids are anti-inflammatory, so they prevent the virus from triggering a severe reaction in which the immune system attacks the body, particularly in the lungs.
Studies conducted by the University of Oxford and Imperial College London also confirmed that several types of corticosteroids worked.
Prof Martin Landray of the University of Oxford said: “These patients are at high risk, for whom there was no other treatment, and this drug costs next to nothing.
“Treatment of 12 patients costs less than £ 60, so this is a really affordable treatment to save lives.”
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Medical Director, said: ‘These findings offer further evidence that corticosteroids may be an important part of Covid-19 treatment for severely ill patients.
“It is impressive to see so many UK participants willing to take part in the studies. Research like this will make a difference in controlling this virus. “
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Simon Stevens added: “One of the distinctive benefits of having our NHS is that we have been able to mobilize rapidly and on a large scale to help researchers test and develop proven treatments for the coronavirus.”
As a result, the UK is not seeing an increase in deaths from the virus despite the increase in cases.
Although there is a delay before the rise in cases begins to impact the deaths figures, experts hope the low mortality is partly due to the NHS’s improvement in coronavirus treatment.
However, there is a rush to find drugs that work before the winter flu season. Government scientists said the UK could see up to 80,000 more deaths in a “reasonable worst-case scenario”.
The official death toll in the UK is 41,500.
One of the studies from Imperial College London found that hydrocortisone leads to a 93% chance of a better outcome. This was a greater chance of survival or a lower need for organ support.
Prof Stephen Evans, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “This analysis published today is a tour de force.
“The methods are of the highest standard for combining the results of different studies that answer the same question.”