The NHS will have to hire more than 1,000 new consultants, physios, and counsellors to treat patients with the lingering and sometimes life-threatening ‘side effects’ of COVID-19, according to a report published by Oxford University professors.
Trisha Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences University of Oxford, made her case to the House of Lords select committee on the strain on NHS resources caused by Long Covid, a distinct condition affecting approximately 60,000 people in the UK characterised by persistent and fluctuating fatigue.
Other complications include breathlessness, cognitive blunting (“brain fog”), and pain. The cause is unknown but it is likely to be due at least partly to an inflammatory reaction. Many cases remain undiagnosed since some clinicians may incorrectly require a positive test for Covid-19. Patients affected range from their twenties to their nineties.
Greenhalgh says those suffering long-term effects were experiencing “inconsistent and fragmented care” and recommended urgent action. As part of the written evidence, she and her fellow researchers suggested a four-tier clinical service was required, comprising self-care, generalist care, specialist care, and specialist management of specific complications.
Long Covid services are currently “patchy and overstretched,” according to Greenhalgh. This is partly because funding was diverted away from rehabilitation and towards the acute sector as an emergency response to the pandemic.
Mainstream press coverage this week of Long COVID sufferers may help NHS and rehabilitation services attract more funding and greenlight a recruitment drive. Long COVID complications are varied and serious. NHS worker, Adele Pearson, 29, has suffered a multitude of complications from joint swelling to fevers over the past five months. Another media account on the BBC was given by British author Michael Rosen, who was placed into an induced coma in March and is still suffering from symptoms including sight and hearing loss. Rosen attests that COVID has taken many ‘victims’, and is grateful for the care he received, but realises the care is still ongoing.
Specialist rehabilitation services designed for patients recovering from a hospital admission (e.g. oriented to restoring normal breathing after pneumonia) have become swamped with referrals from general practice (who often have more general symptoms such as fatigue). The implication for GPs is significant.
NHS-linked recruitment agencies and those working in the private and public care sector will therefore be wise to start scouting out candidates now as the number of COVID patients in hospital rises and the anticipated roll-over of Long COVID complications follow, just as the country also heads into Flu season.
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