Long Covid surge will test NHS capacity, warn medics

Drs Katie Coleman and Melissa Heightman

Drs Katie Coleman and Melissa Heightman speak to a Joint Health Overview and Scruity meeting (JHOSC) for five north London boroughs. - Credit: Archant

At least 7,535 people across five north London boroughs were suffering from long Covid last week - with senior medics concerned "significantly higher" numbers of people could be affected by it as a result of the surge in Covid-19 cases. 

Long Covid, officially post-Covid syndrome, is defined as symptoms including generalised pain, fatigue, high temperature and psychiatric problems which continue for more than 12 weeks after someone has had Covid-19, and which are otherwise unexplained.

Islington GP Dr Katie Coleman  - who is also a representative on the North Central London CCG - told a health scrutiny meeting held jointly by Camden, Haringey, Barnet, Islington and Enfield councillors that long Covid cases were likely to rise after infections surged over December and January. 

She said: “It does make us feel quite anxious, because currently I would say that we do not have capacity in the system, so one of the pieces of work we are currently doing is to try to get a granular understanding of the demand and the level of presentation in the community."

Medics warned they are not seeing an adequate proportion of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) patients being referred. The committee was told that doctors are seeing “probably 20 per cent" fewer people from this cohort than would be expected from the local population.

Doctors are expecting new funding from NHS England to help deal with the issue, while GPs in both Camden and Islington are now being asked to call everyone who tested positive with Covid after six weeks to identify if they are experiencing ongoing symptoms.

Respiratory specialist Dr Melissa Heightman said cardiology, neurology, gastro, rheumatology, allergy, children and young people, respiratory and therapies teams need to be involved in any specialist long Covid pathway.

She said: "This is a multi-system disease, and it is a new speciality for secondary care.

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"Although we were the first to try and embrace these patients as respiratory physicians, we are used to looking after multi-system disease, and what works better is rather than referring on to lots of different specialties, is that you wrap the specialties around the patient."

Adding: "It would be awful for patients to be bounced around the NHS waiting for appointments in lots of different sub-speciality clinics who might not have an understanding or oversight of the whole condition."

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