GPs will soon be able to refer children and young people to new long Covid clinics as the specialist services are expanded.
In December, new NICE guidance recommended that GPs should consider referring long Covid patients to specialist clinics as soon as four weeks after acute infection, after ruling out other diagnoses.
NHS England announced at the time that 69 long Covid clinics were in place around the country, with more sites expected to open in January.
It today announced it will set up 15 paediatric long Covid clinics, as part of a £100m investment in expanding care for the condition.
The specialist children young people’s long Covid services will ‘draw together experts on common symptoms such as respiratory problems and fatigue who can directly treat youngsters, advise family doctors or others caring for them or refer them into other specialist services and clinics’, it said.
As well as providing advice to GPs and referring certain patients on, they will also ‘see and treat the complicated cases directly’, NHS England added.
The hubs, which will include expert clinical support from paediatricians, physiotherapists, nurses and occupational therapists and see patients aged up to 18, will be backed by £70m.
The other £30m will ‘go to GPs to improve diagnosis and care for those with long Covid’, NHS England said.
Some of it will ‘boost online services’ including a Your Covid Recovery website that will provide advice to anyone with long-lasting symptoms without a referral from a healthcare professional, it added.
The plans have a ‘major focus on specialist treatment and rehab services’, with some estimates suggesting that 340,000 people may need support for the condition including 68,000 who will need rehab or other specialist treatment, it said.
And NHS England is ‘exploring plans to launch a rapid access service for NHS staff to access long Covid treatment through either occupational health or GP referral’, it added.
Newcastle and North Tyneside LMC member and former chief executive Dr George Rae said the plans are ‘excellent’ but that it remains to be seen how easy to access and how beneficial the clinics will be.
He told Pulse: ‘Anything which is adding to our armoury to help people, I couldn’t say that’s a bad idea as long as we know about it. If there was somebody who I thought would benefit from the clinic then of course one always does one’s best to see what we can do for that patient.
‘As always the devil is in the detail, as to how beneficial that will be [and] how easily they can be accessed.’
GPs previously warned that access to existing long Covid clinics is patchy, with only one fifth (21%) of GPs saying they currently had access to a clinic in their local area.
According to NHS England, the network of clinics set up so far has received £34m in funding.
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens is expected to set out the plan to deal with the Covid ‘legacy’ at the annual NHS Confederation conference starting today.
He is expected to say: ‘One of the major health challenges emerging from the pandemic is long Covid with hundreds of thousands of people predicted to suffer debilitating health issues such as breathing problems and fatigue.
‘That is why the NHS is now going to invest £100 million in specialist services, including care for children and young people so that parents know advice is on hand through the new hubs to provide patients and their families with the help, support and care that they need.’
Meanwhile, the Welsh Government has announced a £5m investment in long Covid services.
According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), long Covid is still affecting about a million people in the UK, with the number of patients living with symptoms for many months on the rise.
And a UK study showed that most people hospitalised with Covid-19 are not fully recovered three months after discharge. Other research has shown that fatigue is the most common symptom of long Covid and may be as many as four different syndromes.
Health Education England chief nurse Mark Radford told Nursing in Practice that nurses who specialise in long Covid are needed across healthcare settings to respond to rising numbers of cases.
Sites of Long Covid Hubs for children and young people:
The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (NuTH)
South Tees NHS Foundation Trust (James Cook University Hospital)
Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust
Leeds Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Hull University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Manchester Children’s hospital
Birmingham and Solihull Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHSFT
Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland University Hospital Leicester NHST
Cambridge University Hospitals
Bristol Children’s hospital
Oxford University Hospitals
Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth
University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust
London hub led by the Evelina, Imperial, UCLH and GOSH
Source: NHS England