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Call for expanded GP referral options as over 300k patients suffer ‘long Covid’

GPs need quick and easy access to community rehabilitation services for patients with long-term Covid-19 symptoms, the RCGP has urged.

The Government has set up an online portal for patients suffering from the syndrome that has been dubbed ‘long Covid’, however a BBC Radio 4 investigation found that 12% of CCGs were commissioning local rehabilitation services to support patients.

Of 86 CCGs who responded, 10 said they had set up a post-Covid clinic for patients who had not been admitted to hospital with the virus and a further 16 said there were plans to introduce them.

The King’s College London team behind the Covid Symptom Study app say they have identified around 300,000 people in the UK whose Covid-19 symptoms lasted more than a month and 60,000 people who have been ill for more than three months. 

A BMJ survey in July found that more than half of GPs had treated patients with suspected long-term symptoms of coronavirus in the past week.

Speaking today in front of the House of Commons Health Committee, health secretary Matt Hancock said there did not seem to be a correlation between the severity of the initial disease and the long-term consequences of Covid-19, meaning it was not just those admitted to intensive care who might need long-term support. 

‘The NHS has set up a long Covid service and this is not just about people who have been hospitalised,’ he said.

But he added more work may be needed on informing GPs how to access the services.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said there was still a lot to learn about the long-term effects of the virus.

‘It’s become clear that some patients – estimated to be around 10% – who are recovering from Covid-19 are suffering from symptoms, such as fatigue, muscle aches and headaches, for a prolonged period of time.

‘These are symptoms that are similar to other post-viral syndromes and might well be related to Covid-19 but can also be signs of other conditions, so GPs will want to consider all possible causes before making a diagnosis, and any appropriate referral.’

He added that general practice would be central to managing patient’s long-term psychological and physical health effects from Covid-19 infection.

‘It’s vital that as our understanding of the virus improves, and research into how to treat it and its long-term effects emerges, that guidelines for GPs are rapidly developed so that we can treat and manage Covid-19 in the most appropriate way for patients.

‘GPs also need quick and easy access to appropriate diagnostic tools and rehabilitation services in the community for our patients who have had Covid-19.’