Thousands people in the UK could be suffering from ‘long Covid’, where debilitating symptoms from a Covid-19 infection, even a mild case, can linger and last, often for three months or even longer.
According to reports, around 300,000 people have reported symptoms lasting longer than a month, but up to 60,000 people have reported having coronavirus symptoms for more than three months.
Those thought to be suffering from what has been termed “long Covid” have experienced breathlessness and fatigue, while some have had to use wheelchairs or have struggled when attempting everyday tasks such as shopping or climbing the stairs.
Speaking to the BBC’s File on 4 programme, Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said there was a “big danger” that those with long-term symptoms “might end up being forgotten”.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said he was aware that some people were still experiencing Covid-19 symptoms months after contracting the virus, especially young people.
According to Public Health England (PHE) guidance on the long-term health effects of Covid-19, around 10% of mild Covid-19 cases where patients were not admitted to hospital have reported symptoms lasting more than four weeks. Some hospitalised cases reported continuing symptoms for eight or more weeks after discharge.
PHE said persistent health problems following acute Covid-19 included chronic cough, shortness of breath, chest tightness, protracted loss or change in smell and taste, anxiety, depression, skin rashes and continuing headaches, among other health concerns.
Many of the 86 NHS commissioning groups surveyed by the BBC did not have specialist clinics for people who needed care and rehabilitation after suffering from Covid-19. Only 10 said they were already running post-Covid clinics and a further 16 said they were planning or redesigning services.
In July the NHS launched an on-demand coronavirus recovery service, called Your Covid Recovery, aimed at supporting people with long-term breathing or mental health issues that had developed as a result of contracting the virus.
A spokesperson for NHS England said: “At the same time as treating more than 108,000 coronavirus patients and keeping other vital services running throughout the pandemic, the NHS has played a leading role in patient recovery and scientific discovery, which is saving lives here and around the world.
“While experts globally continue work to understand more about the short- and long-term impact of this new disease, NHS teams are rapidly expanding aftercare and support to all patients who need it, including new and strengthened rehab centres and community services providing tailored treatment in every part of the country, such as the first-of-its-kind Seacole Centre and a new online health advice and support platform, which patients said they wanted to help them recover at home.”