The NHS is to set up more than 40 mini-hospitals to treat “long Covid” patients, amid concerns that up to 500,000 may be suffering lasting effects.
Would these be like the “community hospitals” that our CCG has spent so much energy getting rid of? – Owl
Andrew Gregory, Health Editor www.thetimes.co.uk
The centres will offer care to those displaying persistent symptoms such as breathlessness, chronic fatigue, brain fog, anxiety and stress. Experts believe a significant proportion of patients cannot shake off some of the serious negative effects of the disease many months after falling ill.
Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said the health service needed to mobilise to help long Covid patients in the same way that it rapidly reorganised to deal with acute Covid-19 infections earlier this year.
“Long Covid is already having a very serious impact on many people’s lives and could well go on to affect hundreds of thousands,” Stevens said.
The development follows the recent official recognition of long Covid by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the body that determines which treatments and drugs NHS patients are entitled to.
About one in 20 people experience symptoms including fatigue, breathlessness, muscle pain and loss of taste and smell for 12 weeks or more after contracting the virus, a recent study found. This rises to one in 10 people under the age of 50, the research by King’s College London revealed. Different features of long Covid may emerge and overlap as the illness progresses.
There are no precise figures for how many people in total are affected. However, MPs have been told that up to 500,000 people in Britain are living with the long-term effects.
More than 230,000 patients have used an NHS online service launched in July called Your Covid Recovery, which gives patients general information and advice on living with long Covid.
NHS England has provided £10m to fund the specialist centres, which will see patients who have been in hospital, officially diagnosed after a test or who reasonably believe they had Covid earlier in the year before testing was widely available. Some will be mini-hospitals set up inside large hospitals, while others will be based at standalone NHS sites or launched as clinics at GP surgeries.
Ten sites will open in the Midlands, seven in the northeast of England, six in the east, six in the southwest, six in the southeast, five in London and three in the northwest. Of the 43 sites, 13 are already open. The rest are due to start work by the end of this month.
Each of the specialist centres will bring together new teams of doctors, nurses, therapists and other NHS staff to conduct physical and psychological assessments of those patients experiencing enduring symptoms.
Nice is examining which drugs and other therapies improve long Covid patients’ physical and mental health and how best to provide long-term recovery and rehabilitation services.
There is mounting concern that some of the worst affected by long Covid are younger adults and particularly those who in normal times were fit and active.
Dan Scoble, 23, a personal trainer from Oxford, used to breeze through 10-mile runs, but said in June that he was stunned to find himself bed-bound months after contracting Covid-19. Five months later, he said he was still suffering from the effects of the virus. He presumed it would eventually blow over, but he is not back to normal. “I still can’t go for a walk,” he said this weekend.
“I can’t cook for myself — I can shower and dress myself but that’s about it.”
Scoble still suffers from crippling fatigue, migraines and a persistent sore throat, as well as abdominal and musculoskeletal pain. Months of ill-health have taken their toll. “My body was strong going through the hard times, but now it’s weak,” he said.
“Psychologically, it’s bloody tough. The only thing I can control is the controllable — which is my mindset. I’ve been doing two hours of meditation a day to keep me going.”
Scoble said he welcomed the launch of long Covid clinics in the NHS, but the help had come too late for him: “I ended up going private. I do think the NHS is starting to recognise the scale and seriousness of the problem, but I couldn’t wait.”
More than two-thirds of patients hospitalised because of the coronavirus continue to suffer from debilitating symptoms more than seven weeks after being discharged, according to a study in the medical journal Thorax last week.
Researchers found that 54 days after discharge, 69% of patients were still experiencing fatigue and 53% were suffering from persistent breathlessness. They also found that 34% still had a cough and 15% reported depression.
In addition, 38% of lung x-rays remained abnormal and 9% were getting worse, according to the study done in collaboration with the Royal Free London and University College London (UCL) Hospitals NHS Trust.
Dr Swapna Mandal, an honorary clinical associate professor at UCL division of medicine, said the data proved that long Covid was a real phenomenon. Colleague Professor John Hurst said: “Understanding long Covid is critical in helping people who have been through this life-changing experience return to health.”