Last reviewed 13 October 2020
NHS England has announced additional local funding totalling £10 million to be invested this year into setting up clinics in “every area across England” to diagnose and treat patients with “long Covid”.
Many patients who survived Covid-19 have reported persistent symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, heart, lung, kidney, neurological and musculoskeletal problems. It is estimated that 60,000 patients in the UK could now be living with these symptoms, termed “long Covid”, regardless of how will they were with the virus initially or whether they were hospitalised.
NHS England Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens addressed the NHS Providers conference on 7 October, outlining plans where GPs will work alongside other specialists such as physiotherapists, and respiratory consultants to “assess, diagnose and treat” people suffering from symptoms such as breathlessness, chronic fatigue, “brain fog” and anxiety after having had Covid-19.
GPs employed in the clinics will be able to refer patients to specialist services such as sleep clinics or lung disease, cardiac and rehabilitation services, as well as signpost patients to IAPT and other mental health services.
The services, described by Simon Stevens as “one-stop”, will be set up in line with a national specification and provide joined-up care for both physical and mental health. Patients will have access to a physical assessment, including diagnostic testing to identify any potential chronic health issues; cognitive assessment to assess potential memory, attention and concentration problems; and psychological assessment to assess potential depression, anxiety, PTSD or another mental health condition.
NHS England also announced that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has been commissioned to produce, by the end of October, guidance on medical case definition of “long Covid”, which will include patients who have not previously been admitted to hospital or tested positive for Covid-19.
NICE is also developing evidence-based clinical guidelines on how GPs can support “long Covid” patients, to be published in November. They will support health and care services with recommendations on monitoring, testing, treatment options and the provision of advice and support.
GPs can also continue to refer patients to phase two of the online rehabilitation service for patients who have had coronavirus, which was set up in July. The service, “Your COVID Recovery”, puts patients in contact with nurses and physiotherapists who take the lead in responding to patients’ needs remotely, and will provide them with a tailored rehabilitation plan following developments this Autumn.
The announcement comes after concerns were voiced in September, by Royal College of General Practitioners Chair (RCGP) Professor Martin Marshall, that there was still a lot to learn about the long-term effects of the virus. He said general practice would be central to managing patients' long Covid symptoms. He said: "It’s vital that as our understanding of the virus improves, and research into how to treat it and its long-term effects emerges, that guidelines for GPs are rapidly developed so that we can treat and manage Covid-19 in the most appropriate way for patients. GPs also need quick and easy access to appropriate diagnostic tools and rehabilitation services in the community for our patients who have had Covid-19."