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Patients with long-lasting symptoms from COVID will have access to more convenient tests and checks closer to home, under new NHS measures announced today.
Specialist clinics, dedicated to long COVID, will 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.
Backed by an additional £90 million investment, the updated long COVID plan includes ambitions for all patients to have an initial assessment within six weeks to ensure they are diagnosed and treated quickly.
Latest estimates from the ONS show that around 1.6 million people in England are experiencing ongoing COVID symptoms lasting more than four weeks, with around one in five saying it has a significant impact on their daily life.
The plan, which has been developed with expert insights from patients, clinicians and partners across the health and care system, shows the NHS has already made significant progress on delivering the 10 commitments it set out for long COVID services just over one year ago.
This includes establishing 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.
A community outreach van in Mid and South Essex is already seeing patients with suspected long COVID symptoms for booked appointments and walk-ins before referring them for further assessments where needed.
The mobile service offers a range of checks including blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, spirometry and other tests for breathlessness as well as electrocardiography.
Dr Kiren Collison, GP and chair of the NHS long COVID taskforce said: “Long COVID can be devastating for those living with it, and while we continue to learn more about this new condition, it’s important people know they’re not alone, and that the NHS is here for them.
“In just under two years, the NHS has invested £224m to support people experiencing long term effects from COVID – from setting up specialist clinics, hubs for children, and an online recovery platform, to providing training for GP teams.
“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.”
Many of those experiencing long term symptoms, will make a full recovery with support from their community healthcare or GP team, but for those suffering from the more complex and severe symptoms, the NHS has set up specialist long COVID clinics across the country.
Long COVID clinics 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.
Lizzie Burr, 62 from Warwick, was referred to her local specialist long COVID clinic, she said: “I caught COVID in early 2020 and initially managed my symptoms at home expecting they would pass, however over a month later I was still really poorly, and my condition didn’t seem to be improving.
“I was struggling with fatigue and breathlessness, which has severely limited my mobility, as well as nausea, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping.
“I was referred to the long COVID clinic in Stratford by my GP, and following an initial assessment, 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”.
Health Minister James Morris said: “Long COVID can have lasting and debilitating effects on both the physical and mental health of people of all ages.
“These new measures will ensure individuals with this awful condition can access the support that they need more quickly and closer to home.
“The plan shows the incredible progress the NHS has made to provide further support to patients alongside our world-leading vaccination programme which has delivered over 150 million jabs to protect people from the virus.”
In the last year, over 45,000 people experiencing severe or complex symptoms have been seen by a specialist post-COVID service.
Anyone who is concerned about ongoing symptoms following COVID-19 can find information and advice on the NHS Your COVID Recovery website.
This 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 they remain concerned, or are not recovering as expected, they should contact their GP team.