On international long Covid awareness day, 15 of March, let us have a day dedicated to reflecting on the long-term effects of Covid-19. Since the pandemic began, millions of people around the world have been infected with the virus, and many have experienced symptoms that persist long after their initial illness.
How has the impact of Long Covid been on individuals, healthcare systems, and society as a whole here in Scotland? The latest ONS figures estimates 2.1mn people have self-reported with long Covid in the UK. In Scotland alone, 187,000 (3.5% of the population) and since June 2021, the number of cases has suffered an increase of approximately 122%.
Individuals self-reported main symptoms are fatigue (71%), difficulty in concentrating (52%), shortness of breath (48%) and muscle ache (47%). After approximately three years since Long Covid has been recognised, the guideline on managing the long-term effects of Covid has not been updated since November 2021, and the Scottish Government’s policy since September 2021. However, a National strategic network has been established in March last year. Some patients still complain about medical doctors telling them they have anxiety.
From 2020, a £2.5mn fund was allocated to 9 projects which focused on better understanding the symptoms and factors associated with long Covid. For the financial year 2022-23, £3mn from the £10mn long Covid Support fund is available for NHS Boards and partners. In the UK, a long Covid diagnosis and long-term reporting of symptoms were associated with a 44% cost increase in primary care consultation, according to a pre-print study.
Long Covid has severely altered the lives of those affected by it, with previously healthy individuals not being able to do the simple things they have enjoyed doing in their lives. There has been a reduction in working hours. Awareness of the benefits these individuals are entitled to, might not be so good. According to the UK’s Equality Act 2010, if an individual has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term impact on their ability to do normal day-to-day activities, this individual is considered to be disabled. Long Covid patients reporting this effect, therefore, meet these criteria.
We now face an economic impact on our society, due to decrease in productivity and the higher healthcare costs in a health care system already under extreme pressure. Security benefits such as adult disability payment, attendance allowance, universal credit and child disability payment might be available for people affected by long Covid. How high are the numbers of people that were able to successfully apply? How is the awareness of these benefits among the individuals affected?
Why are these people being left aside for so long? Only now we are starting to see some research going in the right direction such as clinical phenotyping to enable targeted treatment of persistent cognitive symptoms after Covid, which is being carried at University of Edinburgh by Prof. Alan Carson. The Scottish Government has funded £290,941 for such.
Long Covid is independent of being vaccinated or not, so why are simple mitigations still not being carried out? We have to stop with the idea that humanity is on a pedestal. We have to use our intelligence wisely. As we mark this Long Covid day, it is important to recognise the ongoing impact of this condition on individuals and society as a whole. By working together to raise awareness, provide support, and invest in clinical research, we can improve the lives of those affected by Long Covid and prevent the long-term consequences of Covid in the future.