Thousands of patients suffering with ‘long-covid’ will be offered specialist help at rehabilitation clinics across England, the head of the NHS has announced.
Sir Simon Stevens said £10m would be invested this year in setting up the one-stop shop services for physical and mental health issues caused by coronavirus.
He estimated ‘hundreds of thousands’ of people could potentially need treatment for the condition, with symptoms including crippling fatigue, breathlessness, ‘brain fog’, anxiety and stress.
Unveiling the clinics at the annual NHS Providers conference yesterday, he said the new network would be a core element of a five-part package of measures to boost NHS support for these patients.
New NICE guidelines and research into the condition, an online rehab service and an NHS taskforce which will include long Covid patients, medical specialists and researchers, were also promised.
Sir Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS, (centre) said £10m would be invested in setting up the one-stop shop services for physical and mental health issues caused by coronavirus
Mr 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.
‘The NHS has got to be just as responsive and agile in respect of these new needs, including long COVID, as we were in repurposing critical care and ventilators and acute capacity in the first phase in March, April and May.
‘And so today, in fact, we are going to be allocating £10 million to establish a network of designated long COVID clinics across the country, which, in line with new NICE guidelines on effective patient treatment pathways, will offer support for the tens of thousands – probably hundreds of thousands – of patients who have got long covid.’ The announcement comes after a major study by King’s College London found 1 in 10 coronavirus patients had symptoms of long Covid a month after being struck down.
People who catch coronavirus report suffering from crippling symptoms for weeks and months (Pictured: A patient in Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Falkirk, Scotland, in April)
One in 50 were still suffering at least three months later, the research involving four million patients found, with experts warning it could become a massive public health issue for years to come.
There have been growing calls for wider services to support people who have had the virus and continue to suffer ill-effects for weeks or months to come.
Many hospitals run follow-up clinics for those who were previously admitted with the virus, but experts have said those who were never admitted are falling through the gaps.
Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, head of primary healthcare at Oxford University, whose team presented evidence to the House of Lords select committee offering the best ways for GPs to treat those dealing with symptoms of ‘long covid’, said there was urgent need for better long term care.
Professor Trisha Greenhalgh
She told The Daily Telegraph: ‘The reviews we’ve done seem to suggest that whilst a tiny minority of people, perhaps one per cent of everyone who gets Covid, are still ill six months later, and whilst about a third of people aren’t better at three weeks, most people whose Covid drags on are going to get better, slowly but steadily, between three weeks and three months.’
GPs will also be advised how to help those with ‘long covid’ by The National Institute for Clinical Excellence and the Royal College of GPs, who are set to release clinical guidelines.
A recent report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has also urged the Government to do more on the issue.
Mr Stevens said there was no doubt the NHS that emerges from the pandemic ‘is going to be a different NHS than the one that went into the pandemic’.
He warned of a tough winter ahead after ‘without doubt the most challenging year in the history of the National Health Service’.
But he said lessons have been learned from the first wave and the NHS could be proud of its response.
‘As we look into winter we are going to have to be very agile in our response, not only to coronavirus but to winter pressures and to sustaining the wider range of services that the NHS offers.
‘There was nothing inevitable about the NHS not being overwhelmed as we saw in some other countries across Europe and around the world.
‘This time around we have a better sense of what the range of demands are that might be placed on the health service.’ A further 14,162 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus were reported in the UK yesterday, as well as 70 more deaths.
Sarah MacFadyen, of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, welcomed the support.
‘Specialist clinics could be a real lifeline for these people. Clinical guidelines will also offer clarity for people’s recovery – something which is desperately needed, especially for those who have been told by their doctors that they aren’t sure how best to help them.
‘Respiratory symptoms like breathlessness can take a huge toll on peoples’ lives so its vital everyone can access support in their recovery, so they can enjoy the best possible health and quality of life after Covid.’