Thousands of patients with COVID-19 who are most likely to be admitted to hospital are receiving a cutting-edge NHS antiviral treatment at home that improves symptoms “within hours”.
Game-changing COVID treatments, which cut the risk of serious illness from the virus and have been praised by at-risk patients as “brilliant”, have been provided to more than 32,000 patients since being introduced for patients outside of hospital in December.
One of the latest COVID treatments, known as paxlovid, was found in trials to slash hospitalisation and deaths by 88%, and has been given to more than 6,000 patients already – with over 1,400 patients benefitting in the last seven days alone.
The NHS is committed to rolling out the latest, innovative therapies as part of its Long Term Plan, and is deploying an armoury of COVID treatments across England to help prevent infections from turning serious.
One of the 32,000 patients to have benefitted from new COVID treatments so far includes Helen West, 56, from Walderslade, Kent, who was offered paxlovid.
Helen has ankylosing spondylitis, a rare long-term condition in which the spine and other areas of the body become inflamed, painful and stiff, requiring her to take medication that suppresses her immune system. After testing positive for COVID, she was contacted by her consultant at Medway NHS Foundation Trust and offered the antiviral developed by Pfizer.
Helen, who has two grown-up children, said: “I initially declined paxlovid because I didn’t feel too bad. I had initially felt fine, just a bit tired, but two days in I had an extremely sore throat, to the point where I couldn’t swallow or talk, and I could barely walk”.
As her joints became painful, she changed her mind and phoned the hospital to request it.
Helen said: “The process was so quick and efficient. Within six hours of taking the first tablet I felt a very slight improvement. After four days, I was back to work. COVID hit me hard but paxlovid really made a positive difference to my recovery”.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS National Medical Director said: “It’s fantastic that since launching the latest antiviral treatment paxlovid just over a month ago, thousands of our most vulnerable patients have already had access to this latest cutting-edge, life-saving treatment.
“Antivirals are another weapon in our arsenal to reduce hospital admissions and fatalities amongst patients at highest risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 and needing hospitalisation – each and every person treated with the new drugs is testament to how the NHS is doing everything possible to protect those who are at most risk.
“Getting vaccinated is still the best way to protect you and your loved ones from COVID, and to date, our world leading vaccination programme has delivered over 119 million doses – including more than 32 million boosters – and I would urge anyone who hasn’t yet been jabbed to come forward for your first, second or booster jab as soon as possible”.
The antiviral treatment is being used to treat those identified to be at the highest risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID or being admitted to hospital in line with government guidance.
The treatment stops the virus multiplying in cells and therefore prevents the virus multiplying in the body, helping patients to fight the infection and get better, faster.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “We have secured more antivirals per head than any other country in Europe – almost five million doses for NHS patients.
“Both of our ground-breaking antivirals – molnupiravir and paxlovid – are available to those most vulnerable to the virus directly through the NHS, and it’s fantastic to see 32,000 patients reaping the benefits.
“For anyone not in this high-risk group, if you’re aged 50 and over or 18 to 49 with an underlying health condition and test positive, you can sign up to the PANORAMIC study to potentially access this treatment too”.
Nearly five million doses of paxlovid and other antivirals, such as molnupiravir, have been procured as part of the latest deal struck by the government.
It comes as the fastest and largest vaccination programme in NHS history continues, with the spring booster jab now underway for over-75s and high-risk people in England.
Another grateful paxlovid patient was Cathy Merry who lives in Duffield near Derby. The 49-year-old, who is a professor of stem cell biology at Nottingham university, has rheumatoid arthritis. When Cathy became badly ill with COVID she phoned a helpline for her condition and within hours a clinic at Royal Derby Hospital dispatched a taxi with paxlovid to her home. Four days later she was feeling more normal, and said she dreaded to think how bad she would feel without the game-changing antiviral.
Cathy said: “Having these treatments available is just brilliant and we are so lucky to have them for free on the NHS. The hospital staff have always been brilliant, but to deal with this so efficiently is absolutely, unbelievably good care.
“I lived in the US and we are so lucky to have the NHS and the brilliant care they give to us all”.
Cathy’s consultant, Dr Francis Kynaston-Pearson said: “Healthcare professionals and patients alike have been coming to terms with the impact of COVID-19 and how this has re-shaped our lives.
“This is particularly true for those patients, such as Cathy, who are at higher risk because their immune systems are weaker due to their condition, or the treatments used to control them.
“It gives me great hope to see new treatments such as paxlovid being introduced to support such vulnerable patients to allow them to start leading their normal lives again.
“The pandemic may not yet be over, but with new developments like this, I hope we can soon look forward to enjoying life in a similar way to how we did before the pandemic”.
While it will still be up to clinicians to decide on a case-by-case basis whether this treatment, or another COVID-19 medicine, is the best choice for their patients, the latest antiviral paxlovid is an important step in the NHS fight against the virus.
Free lateral flow tests remain available for specific groups at higher risk of serious outcomes from the virus, with further details on eligibility available on the gov.uk website.
People who are eligible for paxlovid will be sent the tests to keep at home in case they develop symptoms.
Further information about who can access treatments and how is available on the nhs.uk website.