ME charity adviser says Scotland lags behind rest of UK in providing help for long Covid patients

By Paula Murray, Scottish Sunday Express, 25 October 2020

The following article appeared in the print edition of the Sunday Express:

Coronavirus: The Hard Future

Scotland Needs Specialist Clinics

ME charity adviser says nation lags behind rest of UK in providing help for long Covid patients

A MEDICAL charity has warned that a “very significant” number of people who initially had only a mild infection are suffering long-term heart and lung damage from Covid-19.

The ME Association is the latest organisation to back our campaign for specialist clinics for those who continue to experience multiple health problems months after falling ill.

Dr Charles Shepherd, the charity’s honorary medical adviser, said Scotland was already behind the rest of the UK in providing health services for people with ME or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

And he said the Scottish Government appeared to have been slow off the mark to address the serious issues experi­enced by long Covid patients.

Dr Shepherd, who is based in London, said:

“The ME/CFS services in Scotland are far behind what we have down here, and we don’t have it perfect either.

“The number of specialists you can be referred to for ME/CFS is so minimal it is scandalous. And it sounds like things are a bit behind up there when it comes to long Covid.”

Dr Charles Shepherd

Dr Shepherd said long Covid was actu­ally “various clusters of symptoms” and people needed to be seen by a multi-disciplinary service.

He added: “They need a proper initial assessment and proper examinations with chest and heart investigation to see if there’s any lung or heart damage, which we know the virus is causing.

“I keep stressing that if people are still breathless or still get chest and heart symptoms, palpitations and a soaring heart rate after light activity they need to be investi­gated because a very significant proportion of people who come out of hospital or who managed the virus at home have continuing heart and lung damage.

“They may not have had particu­larly serious symptoms at the time of the initial infection and may not have even been seen by a doctor. But when you examine them properly and do scans you see the long-term damage.”

Although older people are most at risk from severe illness from Covid-19, Dr Shepherd said long Covid was more common in people in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

“There’s probably 10 per cent of them who are just not getting over it and are getting long Covid, which is now worse than the initial illness.

“We as a charity were quick off the ground because we could see it coming.

“There are other type of coronavi­ruses and this is not the first time we’ve had a Covid-type illness.

“We had the SARS epidemic in 2002/3 and studies show 10 to 20 per cent of the people who had SARS went on to develop ME/CFS symptoms.

“We are dealing with a lot of unknowns and for example it is very uncertain how many people in the long Covid group are improving or get­ting better.

“Our feedback, which is anecdo­tal, suggests not many are getting better and an awful lot are flat, not improving. Obviously that view might be skewed in that if they do get better they tend to drift away from organisations like ourselves.

“But we do know long Covid does not stop at the Scottish border. We need specialist clinics to get diagnostics in place and see if and how we can treat people.”

£10million for specialist clinics in England

Earlier this month, the head of NHS England announced people with long Covid symptoms will get specialist help at clinics in every part of the country.

Launching the £10million drive, Sir Simon Stevens said there were “probably hundreds of thousands” of patients affected. Our campaign is calling for similar clinics to be introduced north of the Border.

Post-Covid Fatigue Syndrome & ME/CFS Management

The Scottish Government said the Chief Scientist Office launched a call for further Scottish-led research into the “important issue” earlier this month, with up to £300,000 of funding available for individual projects.

A spokesman added: “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 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 need across a wide range of specialisms.”

The ME Association

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