A team from North Devon has been supporting the Oxford University trial into a life-saving drug for coronavirus patients.

The Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust (NDHT) clinical team at North Devon District Hospital is among 175 hospitals in a national trial of the steroid treatment dexamethasone.

The study shows it cuts the risk of death by a third for Covid-19 patients on ventilators and by one fifth for those on oxygen treatment.

In March the RECOVERY (Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY) trial was set up as a randomised clinical trial to test a range of potential treatments for Covid-19, including low-dose dexamethasone.

In April, the NDHT team joined the trial, which saw more than 11,500 patients in the UK signed up to take part, including the main South West hospitals.

Dr Roope Manhas, consultant rheumatologist and director of research at NDHT, said: “We should all feel very proud to have contributed to this very important national public health research study, which is informing medical practice in this field in both the UK and worldwide.

“The outcome of the Dexamethasone arm is a fantastic and welcome development for both current and future patients who may be affected by this awful disease.

“Hopefully we will see more positive outcomes for other treatments being trialled as part of this study very soon, thus widening treatment options whilst we await the development of a vaccine against Covid-19.”

Michal Lamparski, respiratory discharge facilitation pharmacist at NDDH, added: “Being able to enrol the worst-hit Covid-19 patients into the trial was often the only way to give them back some of the control over their own life, often lost at the moment of admission.

“On many occasions it helped to reassure the family members, and sometimes even ourselves in our moments of doubt, that we are doing everything we possibly can to make our patients feel better.

“Working together across various healthcare professions towards a shared goal felt good and it gave us all a sense of belonging to a supportive community, so needed in these trying times.”

The government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said it was particularly exciting as this was an inexpensive widely available medicine.

He added: “This is a ground-breaking development in our fight against the disease, and the speed at which researchers have progressed finding an effective treatment is truly remarkable. It shows the importance of doing high quality clinical trials and basing decisions on the results of those trials.”

Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, and one of the chief investigators for the trial, said: “Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19. This is an extremely welcome result.

“The survival benefit is clear and large in those patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment, so dexamethasone should now become standard of care in these patients.

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