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RespiratoryJul 28, 2022

Patient praises physio as NHS England updates long Covid plan - but concerns over staffing raised

A patient with long Covid has praised the support she received from a respiratory physiotherapist based in a specialist clinic in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. The patient, Lizzie Burr, from Warwick, was referred to her local specialist long Covid clinic by her GP.

Ms Burr’s comments appear in a statement released today (28 July) by NHS England that sets out the latest action plan for thousands of people with long Covid symptoms. The 62-year-old was struggling at home with fatigue and breathlessness, which severely limited her mobility after she contracted Covid early on in 2020. Her other symptoms included nausea, loss of appetite and difficulty in sleeping, she said.

‘Following an initial assessment [in Stratford], I received specialist support from a respiratory physio to improve my breathing, as well as a dietician who has helped me with food and exercise.

‘Whilst I’m still in the process of recovery, I can’t speak highly enough of the long Covid clinic, for me it’s been a lifeline and has helped me both physically and mentally. I would encourage anyone who is worried about long Covid to seek help and speak to their GP team.’

The NHS Confederation's Layla McCay said clinics were already 'swamped by demand'


New six-week deadline 

NHS England said specialist long Covid clinics would now be able to send people for tests at local one-stop shops and mobile clinics, rather than people going back to their GP practice for multiple different tests. The updated plan – which it says is backed by an investment of £90 million – should mean that every patient with long Covid symptoms will be assessed within six weeks to ensure they are diagnosed and treated quickly.

According to the latest ONS estimates, about 1.6 million people in England report having Covid symptoms that have lasted for more than four weeks, with about one in five saying these have a significant impact on their daily life. NHS England said the updated plan was developed with input from patients, clinicians and others in the health and care system and that ‘significant progress’ has been made since it issued a set of 10 commitments for long Covid services last year.

For example, it said there is now a nationwide network of 90 specialist long Covid clinics, 14 hubs for children and young people and investment in training and guidance to support GP teams in managing the condition.

Kiren Collison, a GP who chairs the NHS long Covid taskforce, said: ‘Today’s plan builds on this world-leading care, to ensure support is there for everyone who needs it, and that patients requiring specialist support can access care in a timely and more convenient way.’

Pressure being heaped on staff

In the face of a workforce crisis and huge ambitions to clear the waiting lists, health leaders will be wondering how these specialist clinics will be staffed, particularly as frontline workers are at an increased risk of getting the virus themselves [Layla McCay]

But Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said Covid-19 was ‘far from a flash in the pan illness’ and could have a devastating long-term impact on people’s lives.

‘Not only does this place additional pressure on already stretched NHS services but the Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that it costs £1.5 billion a year in lost earnings and when people are out of work, this can then affect their health and wellbeing further.' 

Dr McCay said: ‘This is why it is so important that the NHS has a plan on how these people will be supported in the community, backed by additional investment. We look forward to seeing the detail of this. The NHS Confederation is concerned that long Covid clinics were already ‘being swamped by demand’, with the situation bound to worsen as patients are now going to be seen in six weeks, rather than 12.

Dr McCay added: ‘In the face of a workforce crisis and huge ambitions to clear the waiting lists, health leaders will be wondering how these specialist clinics will be staffed, particularly as frontline workers are at an increased risk of getting the virus themselves.’ 

Long Covid clinics aim to offer a comprehensive multidisciplinary service, including physical, cognitive and psychological assessments and management, and can also refer patients for further rehabilitation, treatment and other support.

People with concerns about ongoing symptoms following Covid-19 can find information and advice on the NHS Your Covid Recovery website.

The online platform provides expert advice on what people can do if they are recovering from the infection, as well as what to look out for if symptoms persist and signposting on where to access support for long lasting symptoms.

Since launching, the online service has been accessed by over 10 million people worldwide and is now available in 17 languages including Arabic, Chinese, Gujarati, Hindi, Polish, Ukrainian and Urdu. If concerns remain, people should contact their GP team, NHS England added.

Author: Ian A McMillan
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