NHS England has announced that more than 40 ‘long Covid’ clinics are to open across the country ‘within weeks’.
GPs and other specialists will staff the clinics set up to diagnose and treat patients suffering from the long-term effects of Covid, backed by £10m of local funding, NHS England previously announced.
It comes as NICE last month published its definition of ‘long Covid’, saying that patients with long-term effects of Covid-19 are those with symptoms for more than 12 weeks that ‘can affect any system in the body’.
The network of more than 40 specialist clinics is due to start opening for referrals from GPs and other healthcare professionals at the end of November, NHS England said.
Patients who have been hospitalised, officially diagnosed with a test or ‘reasonably believe they had Covid-19’ will be eligible for referral, it added.
Ten clinic sites have been earmarked for the Midlands, seven in the North East, six in the East of England, South West and South East respectively, five in London and three in the North West.
NHS England guidance published earlier this month said that it was up to local commissioners to decide whether clinics will be GP-led and based in practices.
It said: ‘Clinics may be led by secondary, primary or community care clinicians, including integrated care or advanced clinical practitioners, and from a range of specialties, with referral to other specialist teams as needed.
‘Clinic setting is for local determination and may be based in primary, secondary or community services, if there is prompt access to the appropriate diagnostics.’
It added that the clinics could be located either on a single site or delivered across multiple sites or virtually ‘where appropriate’.
NHS England also announced the launch of a new ‘taskforce’, including clinicians, researchers, patients and charities, to ‘help manage the NHS approach’ to the condition.
The taskforce will also produce support materials and information for both patients and healthcare staff to ‘develop a wider understanding of the condition’.
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: ‘Long Covid is already having a very serious impact on many people’s lives and could well go on to affect hundreds of thousands.
‘That is why, while treating rising numbers of patients who are sick with the virus and many more who do not have it, the NHS is taking action to address those suffering ongoing health issues.’
He added: ‘These pioneering ‘long Covid’ clinics will help address the very real problems being faced by patients today while the taskforce will help the NHS develop a greater understanding of the lasting effects of coronavirus.’
‘Long Covid’ is thought to affect more than 60,000 people in the UK and can cause fatigue, brain fog, breathlessness and pain.
NICE is still working on full guidance for UK GPs and other healthcare professionals about how to manage the longer term stages of Covid-19.
The final version, which is due to be published before the end of the year, will focus on investigations and assessment, management and rehabilitation, referral, inequalities, and people’s lived experiences.
In October, the National Institute for Health Research found that ‘long Covid’ can be split into four distinct syndromes – post-intensive care syndrome, post-viral fatigue syndrome, long-term Covid syndrome and permanent organ damage.