Health Education England chief nurse Mark Radford has said nurses who specialise in long Covid are needed across healthcare settings to respond to rising numbers of cases.
Mr Radford, who is also deputy chief nursing officer for England, told Nursing in Practice that ‘developing expertise with nurses who specialise in long Covid in the community and also in other settings is a natural progression for me’.
These specialist long Covid nurses could work to support Covid patients alongside other highly specialist roles in community settings – such as in diabetes and heart failure – who already ‘manage complex symptoms as part of their routine work’, he added.
The statement comes after nursing leaders told Nursing in Practice that community and primary care nurses need extra resources to cope with rising long Covid cases. Official data last month showed more than one million people in England are living with the condition.
Alongside developing specialist nurses, Mr Radford added that it was also important to develop long Covid training and education materials for all nurses, who he said will have a ‘fundamental role’ in leading the management of long Covid.
He singled out ‘community and general practice settings’ as particularly important in the management of long Covid, because that’s where ‘many patients will present’.
Mr Radford continued: ‘There are skills and expertise that nurses have that means that nursing is ideally placed to manage the complex array of both physical and psychological impacts, as well as importantly the social impacts, of long Covid.’
In addition, Mr Radford said he was working with chief nursing officer for England Ruth May and NHS England on other approaches to long Covid such as service delivery. Although there is still more work to be done on this, he stressed nursing will be ‘front and centre’ in the response.
Dr Elaine Maxwell, nurse academic and author of the National Institute for Health Research’s ongoing long Covid review, agreed that more training was needed. She warned Nursing in Practice that nurses need to be trained in spotting long Covid in both existing and new patients.
She continued: ‘There will also be lots of nurses looking after people with heart failure, diabetes, COPD, who do not realise that the change in their patients’ condition could be long Covid. Older people who are suddenly behaving differently or having falls may be long Covid.’
With extra training, nurses could help screen patients for long Covid clinics, follow up people discharged from hospital and fast-track people who may deteriorate, she also suggested.
Previous research by Dr Maxwell showed long Covid may be as many as four different syndromes that ‘cover every part of the body’ and brain, meaning it can be hard to recognise and many patients are not believed.
She explained that some patients experience a ‘rollercoaster of symptoms’ that ‘move around the body’, while some suffer ‘floating symptoms’ affecting one part of the body only to be replace by separate ones in a different area.
Mr Radford made his comments during an interview with Nursing in Practice, which will be published over the summer.