The government and NHS England appear unable to identify units set up to treat ‘long covid’, contrary to a claim by Matt Hancock in Parliament that the NHS had ‘set up clinics and announced them in July’.
There are growing calls for wider services to support people who have had COVID-19 and continue to suffer serious follow-up illness for weeks or months. Hospitals run follow-up clinics for those who were previously admitted with the virus, but these are not generally open to those who were never admitted.
Earlier this month the health secretary told the Commons health committee: “The NHS set up long covid clinics and announced them in July and I am concerned by reports from Royal College of General Practitioners that not all GPs know how to get into those services.”
Asked by HSJ for details, DHSC and NHS England declined to comment on how many clinics had been set up to date, where they were located, how they were funded or how many more clinics were expected to be “rolled out”.
However, two charities and support groups — Patient Safety Learning and the Long Covid Support Group — told HSJ they were not aware of dedicated long covid clinics for community patients. An enquiry from Patient Safety Learning to NHS England has not been answered.
The number of people affected by long covid is unclear due to a lack of research but there are suggestions it could be half a million or more. Symptoms can include fatigue, sleeplessness, night-time hypoxia, “brain fog” and cardiac problems. It appears to affect more people who were not hospitalised with coronavirus than those who were were. There is some evidence that small clinics have been set up locally on a piecemeal basis, without national funding.
HSJ has only been able to identify only one genuine “long covid clinics” open to those who have never been in hospital with covid.
Trisha Greenhalgh, an Oxford University professor of primary care health sciences who has interviewed around 100 long covid sufferers, told HSJ: “Nobody I have interviewed had been seen in a long covid clinic but there is an awful lot of people who would like to be referred and who sound like the need to be but they haven’t.”
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Source: HSJ, 23 September 2020