News of emerging vaccines promises light at the end of the coronavirus pandemic tunnel, but many people who’ve already had the disease continue to suffer from long-term effects.
Coronavirus, or Covid-19, is unusual in that it can affect people to widely varying degrees. Some, especially those at increased risk due to age or existing medical conditions, can die from the virus, while others can have it without even knowing, experiencing few or no symptoms.
Some can catch the virus and recover quickly and fully, but others suffer debilitating effects for weeks or months afterwards – a condition dubbed ‘long Covid’. It’s thought to affect more than 60,000 people in the UK, causing symptoms including fatigue, breathlessness, pain and ‘brain fog’.
Now the NHS is launching a network of more than 40 specialist ‘long Covid’ clinics dedicated to treating the lingering condition. Due to begin opening from the end of this month, the clinics will bring together doctors, nurses, therapists and other NHS staff to carry out physical and psychological assessments of those experiencing enduring symptoms.
Ten sites have been earmarked for the Midlands, seven in the North East, six in the East of England, South West and South East respectively, five in London and three in the North West. Initially they’ll treat patients who’ve been hospitalised, officially diagnosed after a test, or reasonably believe they’ve had Covid-19.
Patients will be able to access the new clinics’ services through a referral by their GP or other healthcare professional. This will allow doctors to first rule out any other possible underlying causes for symptoms, such as suspected stroke, lung cancers or respiratory conditions.
The NHS has also launched a ‘long Covid taskforce’, bringing together patients, clinicians, researchers and charities. It will help shape and manage the NHS approach to long Covid and produce information and support materials for patients and healthcare professionals to develop a wider understanding of the condition.
NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “Long COVID is already having a very serious impact on many people’s lives and could well go on to affect hundreds of thousands. That’s why, while treating rising numbers of patients who are sick with the virus and many more who do not have it, the NHS is taking action to address those suffering ongoing health issues.
“These pioneering ‘long COVID’ clinics will help address the very real problems being faced by patients today while the taskforce will help the NHS develop a greater understanding of the lasting effects of coronavirus.”
A study from King’s College London found that older people, women and those with a greater number of different symptoms in the first week of their illness were more likely to develop long Covid, with one-in-10 still unable to shake off the side-effects eight weeks after infection. More recent evidence suggests long Covid can be categorised into four different syndromes: post intensive care syndrome, post viral fatigue syndrome, permanent organ damage and long-term Covid syndrome.
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