A growing number of people are being left with persistent health problems from coronavirus, including crippling fatigue, breathlessness, joint pain, anxiety and brain fog. The problems can afflict anyone from those who had relatively mild coronavirus infections to those who were treated in intensive care. NHS England last week announced a £10million funding package to set up a network of specialist clinics, with chief executive Sir Simon Stevens saying there were “tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands” of people affected.
Today, the Scottish Sunday Express is launching a new campaign to call for similar action north of the Border to help people see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Lesley Macniven, from Edinburgh, fell ill with the virus in March and has battled the symptoms of long Covid ever since.
The Scottish Government has acknowledged there are long-term effects from coronavirus and has published an action plan using existing therapies and rehabilitation pathways.
Lesley Macniven, the co-founder of LongCovid.org in Scotland with Nicola Sturgeon
But Mrs Macniven, 52, below, said the Holyrood administration risked a “generation of disability” if it failed to take further action now. She said: “We need care for long Covid.
“It’s not enough to send someone to a lung rehabilitation clinic or cardio specialist because at the moment people have a multitude of symptoms and they just want to go to one place to be thoroughly checked over and be told, ‘Everything’s clear, this is not anything you have to worry about in terms of having a stroke or a heart attack. You can go home and you know you are not about to die’.
“Part of the illness is to have remitting, relapsing episodes so it is really hard to judge if you are ready to go back to work and get your life back together.
“People who six or seven months after contracting the virus think they’ve turned the corner are saying, ‘I’ve definitely had another relapse’. It’s soul-destroying. People are losing their livelihoods because of it.
Lesley Macniven, from Edinburgh, fell ill with the virus in March
“This is a significant risk to everybody.
“Let’s not play the lottery. Let’s make sure the way we manage this pandemic takes into account all harms that come to people whether it’s death, infection or long-term illness and the impact it has on society. Look at that impact and quantify the cost to all of society, invest some money in actual research, set up clinics that are also gathering data from patients.
“Health is a devolved issue and we need to ensure the Scottish Government delivers something along the lines of what’s been done in England and we want to help shape that delivery.
“We want our experiences to be shared with the right people so whatever is delivered, is delivered for us with us, other than to us as the end product.”
The mother-of-two, who is a co-founder of the Scottish arm of online support forum LongCovid.org, said that coronavirus survivors had experienced almost 200 different symptoms.
She continued: “If people don’t get the right support and care in the first six months there is a real risk we could have exponential growth in the ME/CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) community.
“We could have exponential growth in people with chronic lung and cardiac issues. We could see exponential growth in people with conditions we’ve never seen before.
“This virus is nothing like we’ve seen before. It goes everywhere.
“It is not scaremongering to say we need to address this now or risk this pandemic leading to chronic illness in people who’d easily have 30 years of working life ahead of them.
“To lose that future would be utter devastation. Vast numbers of people are not getting into working life because the virus has left a lasting impact.”
The Scottish Conservative Party agreed that action was needed immediately.
Health spokesman Donald Cameron said: “Those suffering with the long-term effects of Covid cannot become the forgotten victims of this pandemic.
“As we see cases rising again, we must learn all we can from patients who have experienced long-Covid symptoms so that the NHS can meet the needs of Scots who are afflicted in this way in the future.
“SNP Ministers also need to urgently outline how they are going to support patients still suffering months on from getting the virus.”
The Scottish Government insisted existing resources were best placed to deal with any complications.
A spokesman added: “We are closely monitoring the emerging evidence about the longer physical and mental health impacts of Covid and recognise that rehabilitation, clinical input and research are all critical to understanding and supporting recovery.
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“That is why on October 5 the Chief Scientist Office launched a further call for Scottish-led research into this important issue. This is in addition to the £5million we recently awarded to 15 Scottish research institutions to better understand the effects of infection and inform treatment and management of the virus.
“We have published a framework for supporting people through recovery and rehabilitation during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our NHS is following best practice for treatment options to support the management of Covid which suggests using the knowledge and expertise already within our NHS to deliver care tailored to individual needs across a wide range of specialisms.”