Hancock must apologise to long Covid patients

Matt Hancock must apologise to long Covid patients
The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock
Photo from creative commons

Matt Hancock is under pressure to apologise to long Covid patients, after an investigation by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus revealed that some are waiting over 100 days for treatment. Hancock must apologise.

A “postcode lottery of care”

The figures reveal a “postcode lottery of care”, with some patients waiting as long as 127 days for treatment after being referred to their local Covid clinic, while others are seen in just four days. The research found three patients at one trust waited 100 days or more, one patient at another trust waited 102 days, while at another trust a patient waited 97 days.

The research, based on Freedom of Information requests, also found that several of the long Covid clinics promised by ministers were still not up and running three months after they had been announced. This is despite Matt Hancock previously claiming the government is “doing everything we can” to support long Covid patients.

Doing everything they can?

In a statement in October 2020, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Long covid can have a huge impact on people affected. So we are doing everything we can to support people who are still suffering with effects on their health. Since May, rehabilitation facilities and recovery services have been available to those who have suffered with the virus and I am delighted to see these becoming more accessible with the opening of specialist clinics right across England.”

The government claimed during a parliamentary debate in January 2021 that a network of 69 long Covid clinics was already “operating” around the country and that hundreds of patients are already receiving treatment. However, data uncovered by the APPG on coronavirus has found that in several of the areas listed as providing long Covid clinics, they were still not up and running by 31 March 2021.

Two trusts, Scarborough Teaching Hospital Trust and Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust, responded that there was no clinic operating or planned in their trust. Another five trusts said that a long Covid clinic was planned but was not yet operational by 31 March. Several NHS trusts pointed to financial and operational pressures that have delayed the setting up of the clinics. Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust said that its clinic had “not yet started due to operational pressures in responding to recent covid surge” while Stockport NHS Foundation Trust said it had only been given “a small amount of money” to set up a clinic.

Chair of the APPG Layla Moran has demanded that the Health Secretary make an urgent statement to Parliament on the issue when it returns next week, to clarify how many long Covid clinics have been set up, how many patients have been treated and what the average waiting times are.

The North East

The North East has five long Covid clinics:

  • The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust
  • North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust
  • South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

In the North East Newcastle Upon Tyne has been a pioneer for long Covid clinics.

South Tees, like Newcastle, has an easily accessible site.

Discrepancies

For those clinics which are operational, there were large discrepancies in the numbers of patients seen in the period up until 31 March 2021. One trust had received 2,796 referrals, of which 498 patients so far had been assessed, while another clinic has seen just eight patients as it only went live in March. Another trust had received 700 referrals, but all were still waiting to be triaged. In total 7,835 patients were referred to long Covid clinics at the 19 trusts which provided data on referrals, or an average of 412 per trust.

Four trusts provided a further breakdown on the long Covid treatments that they provided. Of the 677 patients treated at these clinics, 154 were referred to a digital app for onward treatment, 86 were referred to specialised pulmonary care, 76 to chronic fatigue clinics, 71 for mental health or talking therapies, 47 for physiotherapy and 24 for respiratory clinics.

It comes after the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics4 revealed an estimated 1.1 million people are living with long Covid across the UK, of whom 674,000 said it affected their everyday life and 196,000 said their ability to undertake day-to-day activities had been limited a lot.

From the APPG on coronavirus

Layla Moran MP, chair of the APPG on Coronavirus, commented:

“These figures expose the shameful postcode lottery of care facing those suffering with long Covid.

“Matt Hancock must come before Parliament and clarify why it appears that some long Covid clinics are still not up and running, despite having been promised months ago. He should also personally apologise to long Covid patients who are having to wait months on end in pain for treatment.

“It is intolerable that patients with this debilitating condition are still not receiving the care they deserve. The government must urgently increase funding for long Covid clinics, so that overstretched NHS trusts can offer treatment to all those who need it.”

Andrew Gwynne MP, a member the APPG on Coronavirus who has suffered from long Covid, said:

“I’ve suffered the impact of long Covid first-hand and so know how serious the symptoms can be. This is a cruel condition that leaves many people struggling to carry out everyday tasks and suffering from extreme fatigue and persistent pain.

“These people need urgent treatment to help them recover, so it is shocking that some are having to wait 100 days or more to be assessed and treated.

“Ministers must address these unacceptable delays and prevent long Covid patients from being so catastrophically let down. We must not allow long Covid care to become the new “Cinderella” service of the NHS.”

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus has made a series of recommendations to improve support for those living with long Covid, after receiving evidence from a large number of long Covid sufferers. Last month, 65 MPs and peers wrote to Boris Johnson urging him to take into account the “untold human suffering” caused by long Covid and the risk that more people could develop the disease as the lockdown is eased.

One North East trust provided this link for those who might have long Covid.

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