Earlier this week NHS England announced that people suffering with symptoms of long Covid will be able to access specialist help in clinics across England.
While the long-term health consequences of coronavirus are currently unknown, the app based research of the Zoe Covid Symptom Study reported in June that around 10% of people who have had Covid-19 report symptoms for up to three weeks beyond the ten day infection period, and another 5% for months afterwards.
These results being projected upwards in another study, published in July by the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that a majority of patients were experiencing at least one symptom two months after being infected.
Damage to the lungs, heart, kidneys, and nervous system during infection can have lasting aftereffects – which may account for experiences of fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, loss of smell, joint pain, as well as many other long Covid symptoms.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and long Covid
Although this is not an isolated occurrence, for decades many people have been diagnosed with the ill-defined Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), supposedly brought on after a viral infection. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has been long debated within the medical community as to whether it is better defined as originating from a psychosomatic illness, being a response to psychological trauma, or if it is defined as a physical illness initiated by a viral infection, or has a genetic/hormonal basis.
A spokesperson for the ME Association, a charity that advocates for people affected by ME/CFS, said that: "For the past few months, more and more people with long covid tails – the inability to shake off some very distressing symptoms that have lingered since their infection – have been coming to the ME Association, either suspecting that their illness has tipped over into ME, or with actual medical diagnoses of post-Covid ME/chronic fatigue syndrome. We're meeting well over a hundred people a week who are extremely worried how their lives might shape out for the worse after a Covid-19 infection.
"We've never known a time like this. Because the timespan is so short between initial infection and chronic illness, there is now a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for science to establish whether a brutal new infection is triggering long-term disability in people with ME/CFS, some of whom never recover their health."
Plans to address long Covid long-term
Speaking at the NHS Providers conference Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, announced that more than £10 million will be invested in additional local funding for long Covid clinics across England.
Sir Stevens said that: “While this is still a relatively new virus, we are learning more about covid with every passing week. It is now clear that long Covid can have a major impact on the lives of a significant minority of patient’s weeks or months after they have contracted the virus."
A five-part package of measures announced included: an increased signposting of those exhibiting long Covid symptoms to relevant support; an already established online rehab service Your Covid Recovery; a countrywide service of clinics dedicated to providing physical, cognitive, and psychological assessments; research funded by the National Institute of Health Research; and a new NHS England Long Covid taskforce.
Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary, said that: “Combined with further research and the new NHS England Long Covid taskforce, these additional services will ensure people get the care they need, improve lives and aid in the fight against this global pandemic."
These plans were also welcomed by long Covid campaigners, with Ondine Sherwood of LongcovidSOS, responding that: “LongCovidSOS welcome this announcement from NHS England. We believe that multi-disciplinary clinics are essential for the assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of the huge numbers of people still suffering the effects of COVID-19."
This announcement follows on from another earlier this week from NICE and the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN), of a proposed development of guidelines that will seek to address the ambiguity of the term long Covid, by proposing a definition of the disease, a classification of symptoms, and a proposal of treatments.
To which Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The College is delighted to be working with both NICE and SIGN to develop this guideline. It aims to support GPs and other healthcare professionals to ensure all patients with long term effects of Covid-19, including those diagnosed in the community irrespective of whether they received a positive test or not, can be cared for in the best possible way, based on the latest evidence.”