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Practices facing ‘tsunami’ of long Covid cases

Practices facing ‘tsunami’ of long Covid cases

Nurses could be facing a ‘tsunami’ of long Covid cases, making it vital for primary care to have more resources to cope, practitioners have told Nursing in Practice.

An estimated two million people in England may have had long Covid symptoms, according to one of the largest coronavirus studies funded by the Government, the REACT-2 programme.

But nurses have warned that cases are likely to rise, adding to existing workload pressures, including assisting with the vaccination programme and dealing with the backlog of patients.

Helen Lewis, an ANP in a practice based in Wales, predicted practitioners were facing a ‘tsunami’ of long Covid cases. ‘There’s a steady increase in patients who are concerned about long Covid, and this will gather muster as time goes on,’ she said.

Sharon Aldridge-Bent, director of nursing programmes (leadership) at the QNI, and author of Living with Covid-19 (Long Covid) and Beyond, said that already, cases of Long Covid had ‘definitely increased workload’, with colleagues seeing more patients with enduring symptoms and multiple health conditions.

Marilyn Eveleigh, nurse advisor to Nursing in Practice, and a Covid vaccinator in a vaccination hub in south east England, said she had heard patients of all ages talking about having ‘symptoms’ long after having had the virus. She added that as cases of long Covid were not ‘acute’ they would ‘probably fall on community and practice nurses’.

Nurses themselves have been experiencing long Covid symptoms. Ms Aldridge-Bent said nurses were ‘pushing to go back to work before they were well enough’, and then ‘crashing and burning’ because they were so unwell.

She said long Covid had ‘compounded the issue of nurses feeling overwhelmed’. ‘Community and primary care nursing was on its knees before the pandemic, and this isn’t going to help’.

With more staff absent with long Covid, and at increased risk of burnout, nurses warned even more could leave the profession. ‘I worry there will be a mass exodus of nurses at the end of all this,’ said Ms Aldridge-Bent.  

The government has been taking steps to address long Covid issues. This June, NHS England and NHS Improvement published: Long COVID: the NHS plan for 2021/22 outlining a summary of actions for the coming months, which includes ‘enhancing general practice services’ to support these patients.

However, nurses called for the Government to pledge more resources to help practitioners deal with an ever increasing workload. Ms Aldridge-Bent said with primary care nursing ‘under resourced for many years’, what was needed was ‘a massive investment’ in the sector.

Nurses are also in ‘real need of some clarity, and research’ about how best to support patients with long Covid, said Ms Eveleigh.

Heather Randle, RCN professional lead for primary care, said: ‘The long term impact of Covid-19 is still not fully understood but it is becoming increasingly clear that many are not experiencing a straightforward recovery.

‘This is going to again add pressures to already stretched nursing staff. We now need to see the investment in those who will be needed to deliver care, not only for their health and wellbeing but also to prevent waiting lists from growing even further.’

The chief executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson said a recent study that found 23% of Covid-19 patients had at least one post-Covid condition showed ‘just how much focus will be needed, particularly as each individual case will be unique, with care packages tailored depending on the patient’s symptoms’.

Nursing in Practice is running a series of articles on long Covid, to help nurses deal with the condition. In the first piece, GP Toni Hazell wrote about what to do if you spot the signs.

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