Royal College of Nursing Report on Long-COVID care

In a report to be delivered to nursing staff at the RCN Congress in Glasgow today (7 June), delegates will learn of the ‘postcode lottery of care’ available to those diagnosed with long-COVID.

The RCN say that

With an estimated two million people in the UK currently suffering from long COVID, and 71% of those reporting that it is adversely affecting their day-to-day activities, tackling the condition should be an urgent priority for the UK government. 

Diagnosis and treatment currently vary hugely from region to region. Although 89 long COVID clinics have been set up around the UK, some patients report waiting months for their first appointment. Services are also recommending contradictory treatments, with some treating long COVID as a physical condition and others as a psychological condition, revealing a lack of research and specialist knowledge. ……….. The government must significantly increase investment in long COVID services and research into the condition to end the postcode lottery and prevent health inequalities worsening. The latest data shows that women, people living in deprived areas, and those working in health and social care are more likely to be suffering from long COVID.

The Scottish Parliament’s 19th May 2022 debate on long-COVID services in Scotland pointed out the longterm challenges of managing long-COVID and specifically drew comparisons with ME

If we compare long Covid with ME—I accept that long Covid is not the same as ME—we see that the ME project has been a long-term one and there have not been easy answers. I do not believe that there are easy answers to long Covid.

John Mason MSP – Scottish Parliament

89 specialist clinics were established but all are in England with none in Wales or Scotland. Even where clinics were established, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 7th June 2022 heard that only 15,000 appointments were available per month but 30% waited over 15 weeks for an appointment and the approaches differed between support, taking therapies and activity. Justin Webb opined “…doctors can’t quite work out if this is a wholly physical condition or in part or totally physchological.” This may help explain the lack of focus.

It is worthwhile putting the issue in perspective. According an ONS Report from 1st June 2022

  • An estimated 2.0 million people living in private households in the UK (3.1% of the population) were experiencing self-reported long COVID (symptoms continuing for more than four weeks after the first suspected coronavirus (COVID-19) infection that were not explained by something else) as of 1 May 2022.
  • Of people with self-reported long COVID, 442,000 (22%) first had (or suspected they had) COVID-19 less than 12 weeks previously, 1.4 million people (72%) at least 12 weeks previously, 826,000 (42%) at least one year previously and 376,000 (19%) at least two years previously.
  • Long COVID symptoms adversely affected the day-to-day activities of 1.4 million people (71% of those with self-reported long COVID), with 398,000 (20%) reporting that their ability to go about their day-to-day activities had been “limited a lot”.
  • Fatigue continued to be the most common symptom reported as part of individuals’ experience of long COVID (55% of those with self-reported long COVID), followed by shortness of breath (32%), a cough (23%), and muscle ache (23%).
  • As a proportion of the UK population, the prevalence of self-reported long COVID was greatest in people aged 35 to 69 years, females, people living in more deprived areas, those working in social care, teaching and education or health care, and those with another activity-limiting health condition or disability.

It must be recalled, and the ONS state, that the estimates presented in the analysis relate to self-reported long COVID, as experienced by study participants who responded to a representative survey, rather than clinically diagnosed, ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 or post-COVID-19 syndrome in the full population.

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