People suffering so-called ‘long Covid’ symptoms months after contracting the virus are to be offered specialist help at NHS clinics across England.
Respiratory consultants, physiotherapists, other specialists and GPs will all help to assess, diagnose and treat thousands of sufferers who have reported symptoms ranging from breathlessness, chronic fatigue, “brain fog”, anxiety and stress, NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens has said.
The move has come amid increasing medical evidence and patient testimony showing that a small but significant minority of people who contract Covid-19 are unable to shake off the effects of the virus months after initially falling ill.
Some estimates have suggested that as many as 10% of Covid patients may still be experiencing symptoms more than three weeks after infection, and perhaps 60,000 people could be suffering from long Covid symptoms after more than three months, NHS England has said.
Speaking at an NHS Providers conference in October, Stevens, chief executive for the NHS in England, said £10m would be invested this year in additional local funding to help kickstart and designate long Covid clinics in every area across England.
The clinics will carry out a physical, cognitive and psychological assessment, with patients then being referred on to specialist lung disease services, sleep clinics, cardiac services, rehabilitation services, or signposted into IAPT and other mental health services.
The move, said Stevens, was part of a five-part package of measures, including the commissioning of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to produce guidance by the end of October on the medical ‘case definition’ of long Covid.
Back in the summer, NHS England also launched an online ‘Your Covid Recovery’ rehabilitation service to provide personalised support to patients. Pase two of the digital platform will be developed this autumn to offer people able access to a tailored rehabilitation plan.
On top of this, the National Institute for Health Research is funding research into long Covid, including working with 10,000 patients to better understand the condition and refine appropriate treatment. Finally, an NHS England ‘Long Covid taskforce’ has been set up.
Stevens said: “It is now clear that long Covid can have a major impact on the lives of a significant minority of patients weeks or months after they have contracted the virus. So, just as the NHS quickly put in place specialist hospital care for acutely ill Covid patients at the start of the pandemic, now we must respond sensitively and effectively to these new patient needs.”
Last month, a renal specialist warned that ‘tens of thousands’ of people who have had Covid-19 may require kidney transplants or dialysis. Dr Donal O’Donoghue, a consultant renal physician at Salford Royal NHS Trust, highlighted how it is believed the kidneys may be injured by the inflammation caused by, or may be directly attacked by, Covid-19.
And the charity the British Heart Foundation has said it is funding research being led by the Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Edinburgh into how Covid-19 affects the heart.