Using dexamethasone to treat coronavirus patients may have saved a million lives around the world since its discovery, NHS England has said.

The inexpensive and widely available steroid was found to reduce deaths from Covid-19 nine months ago following a clinical trial.

Around 22,000 lives have been saved by the drug in the UK, according to new figures, and an estimated one million worldwide.

Scientists from the University of Oxford were the first to find that dexamethasone could reduce deaths from Covid-19 significantly in a clinical trial known as Recovery.

The researchers discovered it cut the risk of death by a third for Covid patients on ventilators, while deaths fell by almost a fifth for those on oxygen.

Scientists reported their findings last year in June and the drug was made available to patients on hospital wards in England hours later.

The new figures are revealed in a paper for NHS England, concluding that the use of the treatment has saved 22,000 British lives.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “Thanks to the exceptional work of our researchers, NHS staff and patients, around one million lives may have been saved around the world.

“Research that would usually take years produced answers in record time – with results that have reverberated across the globe.

“Just as this virus has spread across borders, so too must the treatments and vaccinations that are humanity’s shared ‘exit strategy’ from this pandemic.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This global pandemic has proven that the UK is a world-class force in identifying and rolling out lifesaving treatments to NHS patients.

“Finding dexamethasone through our Government-funded Recovery trial was a true success story for British research and it’s fantastic to see the real impact it’s having saving lives here and around the world.”