GPs are set to staff specialist clinics to diagnose and treat patients with ‘long Covid’ across England, backed by £10m of local funding, NHS England has said.
Speaking at the NHS Providers conference today, NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens announced the additional local funding to be invested this year into setting up the clinics in ‘every area across England’.
GPs will work alongside respiratory consultants, physiotherapists, other specialists to ‘assess, diagnose and treat’ people suffering from symptoms, such as breathlessness, chronic fatigue, ‘brain fog’, anxiety and stress, NHS England said.
The ‘one-stop’ services will be set up in line with a national specification and provide ‘joined-up care’ for both physical and mental health, it added.
NHS England said patients will have access to:
- A physical assessment, including diagnostic testing to identify any potential chronic health issues;
- A cognitive assessment to assess any potential memory, attention and concentration problems;
- And a psychological assessment to see if someone is potentially suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD or another mental health condition.
GPs working in the clinics will be able to refer patients to specialist services such as sleep clinics or lung disease, cardiac and rehabilitation services, as well as ‘signposted’ into IAPT and other mental health services, it added.
The new service comes as part of a five-part package of measures announced by Sir Simon Stevens to ‘boost NHS support for “long Covid” patients’.
The measures include new NICE guidance commissioned by NHS England to be published by the end of October on the medical case definition of ‘long Covid’ – including patients who have not previously been admitted to hospital or tested positive for coronavirus.
NICE is then set to publish evidence-based clinical guidelines on how GPs can support ‘long Covid’ patients in November, NHS England said.
GPs will also continue to refer patients to phase two of the online rehabilitation service for patients who have had coronavirus, which first launched in July, and following development this Autumn will provide patients with a tailored rehabilitation plan.
Sir Simon Stevens said: ‘It is now clear that “long Covid” can have a major impact on the lives of a significant minority of patients weeks or months after they have contracted the virus.
‘So just as the NHS quickly put in place specialist hospital care for acutely ill Covid patients at the start of the pandemic, now we must respond sensitively and effectively to these new patient needs.’
The new service follows the launch of a ‘long Covid’ clinic at University College London Hospital earlier this summer, which has treated over 900 people with symptoms since mid May.
According to NHS England, some estimates suggest 10% of Covid patients may still experience symptoms more than three weeks after infection, while 60,000 could be suffering from symptoms after more than three months.
It comes as the RCGP has urged for GPs to get quick and easy access to community rehabilitation services for patients with long-term Covid-19 symptoms.