‘fraction’ of patients receiving NHS aid in England

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<p><figcaption class=Photograph: Charlie Riedel/AP

Only a ‘fraction’ of long-time Covid sufferers are getting the help they need, with a third waiting more than three-and-a-half months to be assessed after a referral to a GP, rising to nearly half In certain regions.

More than 60,000 people in England had an initial assessment for post-Covid syndrome at a specialist NHS ward between July 2021 and August 2022.

But the latest estimates published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that around 277,000 people with long-term Covid in England report that the disease has “greatly” limited their daily activities. These are the people the experts would expect to be referred to for an assessment; however, the numbers that have been seen are much lower.

Dr Helen Salisbury, GP and columnist for the BMJ, said: ‘A fraction of people who have this problem are actually seen’ within existing services.

She said the reasons could include patients not realizing help is available to them; GPs don’t recognize Covid for long in those who don’t self-label as having the condition; and a lack of local knowledge and access to specialist clinics.

While Salisbury admitted there was no current cure for the long Covid, she added that patients needed treatment which involved symptom management, psychology and knowing they are not on their own in their diagnosis, which she said was “really, really important” to the sufferers.

Otherwise, the lack of access to specialist care could leave patients “prey to all kinds of snake oil salesmen”, she added.

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Ondine Sherwood, co-founder of the advocacy charity Long Covid SOS, said many people who have had Covid for a long time “find it difficult to get healthcare. Many don’t get any treatment at all.

She said public misconceptions about the long duration of Covid made it harder for the sick to seek and get help. “There was a lack of preparedness for potential long-term morbidity that was not passed on to healthcare professionals and this contributed to the lack of care for a long time Covid.”

NHS England has set up 90 post-Covid services in England to provide diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for people with persistent Covid symptoms and without further diagnosis for at least 12 weeks.

On average, 4,000 people visited one of these clinics each month between July 2021 and August 2022 for an initial assessment of symptoms. A third of them had to wait more than 15 weeks for this first examination, the Guardian’s analysis of NHS England figures has revealed.

Those in the southeast are more likely to face the longest waits, as a monthly average of nearly half of them wait that long for an initial assessment. That compares to a fifth of those in the east of England and the South West.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in the Guardian earlier this month: “Delayed clinical care in long-term Covid patients not only impacts on their quality of life, but also on the length of time they have symptoms.

He added that “it is very clear” that the long Covid “was devastating people’s lives and livelihoods” and that governments needed to “invest in their health system and their workers for the long term and come up with a plan now. to deal with the long Covid”.

“For countries with Covid-specific clinics, the waits are often long, so it is important to start integrating multidisciplinary care into health systems, as patients need a range of services. This includes, but is not limited to, health and care workers with expertise in neurology, rehabilitation, psychology, speech therapy, and respiratory therapy.

Responding to the expectations facing patients in England, an NHS spokesperson said local healthcare teams were “working hard to continue to reduce waiting times and prioritize the most complex cases”.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we have invested over £220m and opened 90 specialist clinics and 14 centers for children and young people,” they added. People affected by long Covid symptoms can access these services through their GP or the NHS Your Covid Recovery website.

Analysis of NHS data draws similar conclusions to the ONS’s latest Long Covid survey, with women and people aged 35-64 being more likely to suffer from the disease. The attendance rate of women for a first assessment of post-Covid syndrome is 77% higher than that of men and those aged 35 to 64 report twice the rates of the groups 25 to 34 and 65 to 74.

A recent study by the WHO and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation concluded that at least 17 million people in 53 countries across Europe had long had Covid in 2020 and 2021, and it called on governments to find “solutions to this crisis”.

Sherwood said the voices of long-time Covid patients must be heard in the upcoming coronavirus investigation.

“It’s a pattern we’ve seen throughout the pandemic that people with long-term Covid were the poor relation, never officially counted, never mentioned in government briefings. When they asked for help, many were told they were imagining it.

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