Specialist help is being made available for long COVID patients at 69 clinics, across England.
NHS England provided £10m for the assessment centres, which are taking referrals from GPs for people experiencing brain fog, anxiety, depression, breathlessness, fatigue and other debilitating long-term symptoms of COVID-19.
New research has shown one in five people with COVID-19 develop and the Office for National Statistics found that around 186,000 people have suffered problems for up to 12 weeks.
The new centres, which started opening in November, bring together doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists to offer physical and psychological assessments and refer patients to the right treatment and rehabilitation services.
Ten sites are now operational in London, seven in the East of England, eight in the Midlands, South East and South West respectively, nine in the North West and a further 18 across the North East and Yorkshire. A further 12 centres are earmarked to open in January in the East Midlands, Lancashire, Cornwall and Isle of Wight.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has also issued official guidance on best practice for recognising, investigating and rehabilitating patients with long COVID.
Patients can access services if they are referred by a GP or another healthcare professional, so that doctors can first rule out other possible underlying causes for symptoms.
Specialist COVID-19 patient care
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, said: “The NHS is taking practical action to help patients suffering ongoing health issues as a result of coronavirus. Bringing expert clinicians together in these clinics will deliver an integrated approach to support patients access vital rehabilitation, as well as helping develop a greater understanding of long COVID and its debilitating symptoms.”
Dr Graham Burns, clinical lead at the long COVID centre at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, said: “In the first wave of the pandemic many people did not recover as quickly as they’d expected. We had no idea what long COVID was – the world had never seen COVID-19 before. We set up the clinic in Newcastle to support patients, but it has also been invaluable in helping us understand what long COVID is.
“I’m delighted that patients now have places to turn to across the country turn and on a national scale doctors will be able to learn from our collective experience and offer tailored support to patients.”
The NHS has also launched a long COVID taskforce, with patients, charities, researchers and clinicians involved, to help lead the NHS response to long COVID, produce information and support materials for patients and healthcare professionals, and develop a wider understanding of the condition.