Getting help for Long Covid
This article aims to help Reading people understand where they can get help for long-lasting symptoms of coronavirus.
What is Long Covid? Long Covid describes symptoms that people are still experiencing at least four weeks after they were first infected with coronavirus, whether you had a mild or severe case initially. Common symptoms include extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, “brain fog”, chest pain or tightness, joint pain and in severe cases, heart or lung failure.
Doctors may use the term ‘Post-Covid-19 Syndrome’ instead of Long Covid, to describe people with symptoms that persist beyond 12 weeks.
How many people get Long Covid? Between 10 and 20% of people infected with coronavirus have ongoing health problems, according to various research. In one UK study of 20,000 people who tested positive for COVID-19 between 26 April 2020 and 6 March 2021, 13.7% had symptoms for at least 12 weeks, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS says 1.1million people in the UK at the beginning of March 2021 were reporting that they had Long Covid symptoms.
Berkshire Long Covid Integrated Service (BLIS) – clinic at Royal Berkshire Hospital
Latest guidelines for doctors on assessing and referring people
Patient stories from the UK and around the world
NHS website on Covid Recovery
What impact does Long Covid have on people's lives? More than 60% of long Covid sufferers say symptoms adversely affect day-to-day activities, according to the ONS. People’s stories about the impact on their life, describe periods of crushing fatigue, having to stay in bed, not being able to leave the house or walk very far and having to take time off work. People sometimes don’t feel believed or understood by doctors or other people in their lives, and feel concerned about when or if they will recover.
When should I go to my doctor about Long Covid? The NHS website says if people are worried about symptoms 4 weeks or more after having COVID-19, they should contact their GP.
What should I expect from my GP? Doctors got new guidelines about assessing and managing Long Covid from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in December 2020. NICE recommends doctors ‘listen to their [patient’s] concerns with empathy and acknowledge the impact of the illness on their day‑to‑day life’. After ruling out any urgent or alternative health problems (which may require actions such as blood tests first), doctors should ‘consider referring to an integrated multidisciplinary assessment service (if available) any time from 4 weeks after the start of acute COVID‑19’, the NICE guideline says.
Is there a specialist Long Covid service available in Reading? Yes – the Royal Berkshire Hospital was one of the first in England to set up a Long Covid clinic, formally called the Berkshire Long Covid Integrated Service (BLIS), based in south block within the hospital’s pain management department. It holds weekly face-to-face clinics but also offers patients virtual appointments by phone or video.
How do I get seen by the clinic? You need to be referred by your GP and then you will get sent a questionnaire to complete so the clinic can check if you need further tests before getting an appointment or whether the clinic is the right place for you.
Do I need to have had a positive Covid test to qualify for help? No, but you must show signs and symptoms that doctors think are consistent with Long Covid.
What kind of treatment does the clinic offer? BLIS is made up of a multidisciplinary team of a specialist pain consultant, GP, psychologist, physiotherapist and occupational therapist. They will assess you and set up an individual management plan to help manage your symptoms, wellbeing and daily living. You may need further tests and investigations or referrals to other specialist services.
How many people have been seen at the hospital clinic so far? The clinic has received 263 referrals and seen 70 people., according to figures made public at the start of April 2021. More than two-thirds (65%) have been women and 15% have been from ethnic minorities. The main symptoms they are experiencing are fatigue (95%), shortness of breath (82%), concentration problems (72%), pain (64%), depression (65%) or anxiety (50%). Dr Deepak Ravindran, the clinical lead for the BLIS, recently spoke to the Reading Chronicle about the service, which you can read here.
How long will it take me to recover from Long Covid? As Long Covid is a new health problem, research is still underway to understand what treatment works best, the average duration of people’s recovery and whether different types of people are affected differently.
Is there any other help or support I can get? NHS England has also set up the Your Covid Recovery website, which offers information and advice to people and their families about managing the effects of Long Covid.