Long Covid: ‘more needs to be done’

A retired school principal from Derry battling ‘long Covid’ says NI should have its own fully funded support services.

Friday, 7th May 2021, 9:53 am
NI is said to be lacking in services to deal with ‘long Covid’.

Nick Tomlinson developed blinding headaches, body aches and exhaustion after contracting Covid-19 in October 2020.

Seven months later, he still has many of these symptoms and is concerned for his long-term health. He agrees that ‘long Covid’ patients are, in many ways, forgotten victims of the pandemic.

He says: “Each morning, I get a sense of what kind of day it will be. There is an old black and white film in which a man says, ‘It’s a real pea souper today,’ as he steps out into the London smog. On my pea souper days, I will get very little done, as the fog descends on my brain and lungs.

“By the time I have tried to think something through, I will forget where I started or why. I will feel conscious of my laboured breathing. I will feel a pressure, as if a weight is bearing down on my chest. I will get palpitations. I will have tinnitus and the most chronic headache imaginable.”

The “brighter, less foggy days”, says Nick, require a cautious approach.

“Try to do too much, and there are likely to be a few days of fatigue and breathlessness ahead,” he revealed.

The retired school principal says support services in NI to help people with long Covid are “lacking”.

“Here, to my knowledge, this role has been left primarily to the Chest, Heart and Stroke charity. Surely, Stormont should not be relying on a charity, which has to support many people with serious conditions aside from Covid, to take on this extra responsibility. CHS (NI) have been extremely helpful in providing therapies and advice. However, Covid support should have its own fully funded support services.”

The NI Department of Health says there is a variety of models operational across NI offering post-Covid-19 follow-up care to various groups of patients.

A spokesperson added: “Work is also well advanced to build on the experience in NI so far, and draw on the experience of colleagues across the UK, to ensure that we have the right service to meet the needs of people in Northern Ireland. Once a service model has been identified, work will be undertaken to rapidly develop the appropriate services.”

The Department says that, since the publication by the National Institute for Care and Health Excellence (NICE) of a rapid guideline on the condition in December 2020, the Health and Social Care Board has been tasked with developing proposals for the assessment and treatment of people who continue to experience long-term health effects as a result of Covid-19 infection.

In developing the proposals, HSCB, says the Department, is engaging with the primary and secondary care sectors as well as other stakeholder groups.

The spokesperson added that ‘Post-Covid syndrome’ was a relatively new condition and “we are learning more about what forms of treatment will be effective.”

“The publication by the National Institute for Care and Health Excellence (NICE) of a rapid guideline on the condition has provided a necessary role in helping to define the condition. Publication of the guidance has allowed progress to be made on developing a specific service model for the assessment and treatment of post-Covid syndrome.

“In advance of the publication of the NICE guidance, existing services have been adapted across NI to help address the symptoms of the condition. A regional psychological follow-up Covid-19 pathway group has produced and published guidance on psychological recovery.

“Across NI, respiratory physicians are able to follow-up their Covid-19 patients using British Thoracic Service (BTS) guidelines. The development of a regional model provides an opportunity to ensure appropriate assessment and treatment services are available across Northern Ireland.”