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COVID-19: study into long-term health impacts launched

Physician holding up an x-ray of human lungs 

A major UK research study into the long-term health impacts of COVID-19 on hospitalised patients has been launched today.

The PHOSP-COVID study has been awarded £8.4million jointly by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). This study is one of a number of COVID-19 studies that have been given urgent public health research status by the Department of Health and Social Care.

Led by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (a partnership between  the University of Leicester and the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust), the PHOSP-COVID study  will draw on expertise from a consortium of leading researchers and clinicians from across the UK to assess the impact of COVID-19 on patient health and their recovery.

Around 10,000 patients are expected to take part, making it the largest comprehensive study in the world to understand and improve the health of survivors after hospitalisation from COVID-19. 

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “As we continue our fight against this global pandemic, we are learning more and more about the impact the disease can have not only on immediate health, but longer-term physical and mental health too.

“This world-leading study is another fantastic contribution from the UK's world-leading life sciences and research sector. It will also help to ensure future treatment can be tailored as much as possible to the person.”

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said: “As well as the immediate health impacts of the virus it is also important to look at the longer term impacts on health, which may be significant. 

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“This UKRI and NIHR funded study is one of the first steps in doing this.”

Chris Brightling, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Leicester, Consultant Respiratory Physician at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, and chief investigator for the study said:  “As we emerge from the first wave of the pandemic, we have new insights into the acute phase of this disease but very little information about patients’ long term needs.

“It is vitally important that we rapidly gather evidence on the longer term consequences of contracting severe COVID-19 so we can develop and test new treatment strategies for them and other people affected by future waves of the disease.” 

Symptoms of COVID-19 have varied among those who have tested positive: some have displayed no symptoms, while others have developed severe pneumonia and sadly even lost their lives. For those who were hospitalised and have since been discharged, it is not yet clear what the medical, psychological and rehabilitation needs for this group of patients will be to enable them to make as full a recovery as possible. 

Patients on the study will be assessed using techniques such as advanced imaging, data collection and analysis of blood and lung samples, creating a comprehensive picture of the impact COVID-19 has had on longer term health outcomes across the UK.

The PHOSP-COVID team will then develop trials of new strategies for clinical care, including personalised treatments for groups of patients based on the particular disease characteristics they show as a result of having COVID-19 to improve their long term health.

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Ottoline Leyser, said: “We have much to learn about the long-term health impacts of COVID-19 and its management in hospital, including the effects of debilitating lung and heart conditions, fatigue, trauma and the mental health and wellbeing of patients.

"UKRI is collaborating with NIHR to fund one of the world’s largest studies to track the long-term effects of the virus after hospital treatment, recognising that for many people survival may be just the start of a long road to recovery. This study will support the development of better care and rehabilitation and, we hope, improve the lives of survivors.”

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Leicester said:  “The University of Leicester continues to play a world-leading role in the UK and beyond in health research.

"The confidence in our pioneering research and our researchers as true Citizens of Change, is recognised through the awarding of the PHOSP-COVID study.

"I am incredibly proud of the achievements of our researchers throughout the coronavirus pandemic who have demonstrated the power of, and importance of world-changing research to transform patient outcomes and ultimately to save lives.”

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"I am proud we are the lead NHS trust to investigate the long term effects of COVID-19 as presented in our clinics - it is the next step in our journey to tackle this disease.”

Professor Melanie Davies, Director of the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre said: “The purpose of a Biomedical Research Centre is to translate scientific breakthroughs into benefits for patients at pace. 

“The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the value of centres like ours in Leicester where we are leading research embedded into clinical care settings, which will have a direct impact on patient care, and we are delighted to be awarded this prestigious funding to continue our exemplary record in the fight against coronavirus.”

Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Innovation at Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation, said: “Understanding the long-term impact of COVID-19 is vital to protect and improve the lung health of those with respiratory conditions.

"Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation are committed to the sharing of information through our post-COVID hub and encourages collaboration to ensure anyone with lasting respiratory impacts from COVID can enjoy the best possible health and quality of life.

"We are delighted to be contributing to the patient and public engagement aspects of this study as well as helping with dissemination among the public and policy makers and look forward to learning more about the long term impact of COVID-19-as the study develops.”

The PHOSP-COVID study is widely supported across the NIHR infrastructure, including the Translational Research Collaborations for respiratory, mental health, cardiovascular, dementia, and diet, exercise and nutrition, and many of the NIHR Biomedical Research Centres, which are set up to translate lab-based scientific breakthroughs into potential new treatments, diagnostics and medical technologies.

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