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Long Covid clinics must be established 'as a matter of urgency', Naughten says

The Independent TD told The Journal that those suffering from long Covid are being added to existing waiting lists that are “chronically oversubscribed”.

Image: Shutterstock/Josep Suria

CLINICS FOR PEOPLE that are suffering with symptoms of long Covid need to be established “as a matter or urgency”, Independent TD Denis Naughten has said.

The Roscommon-Galway TD said that while he was given a commitment last September that the clinics would be established, some hospitals are now operating clinics using existing resources, which is causing a further delay for patients on waiting lists. 

Speaking to The Journal, he said: “These people are being referred into the existing system, and this is going to cause huge chaos and backlogs in terms of people getting access to tests, diagnosis and treatment, not just for long Covid, but those that are on the waiting list for the last number of years to access some of these outpatient appointments as well.”

Long Covid takes in a wide range of symptoms including fatigue, shortness of breath and cognitive dysfunction which can have an impact on everyday functioning.

In January, a research paper published by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service estimated that there may be around 114,500 people in Ireland who have or will develop long Covid, rising proportionately along with Covid-19 case numbers.

Anyone concerned about symptoms of long Covid is advised in the first instance to attend his or her GP, who can then refer them for specialist care if necessary, but Naughten said that this is adding to waiting lists in the already overwhelmed health system.

“They’re being advised to go to their GP, but the difficulty is that there’s no referral pathway for them, so even if they go to their GP, where does the GP refer them? They’re referring them into the existing system, which is already chronically oversubscribed with people that are waiting for appointments since before Covid, that have been deferred as a result of Covid,” he said.

“That’s the pathway they’re going in, if they’re lucky enough to even get a GP appointment. It’s nearly impossible to get access to a GP at the moment, and the referral pathways aren’t there, even when they do get access to a GP.”

In a parliamentary question in March, Naughten raised the issue of the clinics with the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, who said his department is working to establish and expand long Covid services.

“The HSE has developed and is implementing an Interim Model of Care to provide long Covid services nationally. Some €2.2 million has been allocated directly for that,” Donnelly said.

“It involves services across a number of healthcare settings, including GPs, communities and hospitals. The initial priority is to establish post-acute and long Covid clinics within each hospital group.”

According to Donnelly, post-acute clinics will manage patients between four and 12 weeks after initial onset of infection, while long Covid clinics will manage patients 12 weeks post onset of infection.

In a response to Naughten dated 9 June, the HSE said that some hospitals that have been nominated as long Covid clinics are currently providing clinics “on an interim basis while awaiting recruitment of full staffing as per the Model of Care”.

“They have been established in response to local need and are leveraging existing resources and capacity.”

A spokesperson for the HSE told The Journal that St Vincent’s University Hospital, Beaumont Hospital and University Hospital Galway are currently operating long Covid clinics.

Post Covid clinics are operating in University Hospital Galway, Cork University Hospital, Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown and Mater University Hospital, the spokesperson added.

Naughten said that these clinics are also competing with patients that have been referred from GPs for other illnesses.

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“For example, if I have maybe lung cancer, I’m on the same waiting list as someone that’s been referred through this referral pathway from a GP. So the difficulty is that you have both of them sitting waiting to try and get access to that appointment,” he said.

He said he has been contacted from people within his constituency who are “in a very serious situation in terms of their own health condition”. 

“They had been actively working, being very fit prior to getting Covid, and now aren’t able to hold down a full time job. And that has a knock on impact in terms not just to the health service, but in terms of social welfare, loss of productivity, particularly in the economy now, where we have a shortage of workers,” he said.

“These people not being able to fully contribute to society and the economy has an even bigger impact from an economic point of view as well as everything else.”

As Covid cases begin to grow once again, Naughten said there’s more and more people being added “daily” to these lists.

That’s the frustrating thing about it. They’re being added to rather than being reduced, and it’s just not good enough.

“My message to the Minister for Health would be that as a matter of urgency, we need to get these referral pathways up and running, not just for people that are within a hospital setting, but also people within the community that desperately need access to these services, which is having a knock on impact in terms of other people that are waiting on hospital appointments.”

The HSE spokesperson said it is implementing and resourcing the establishment of post-acute and long Covid services across the country.

“The HSE is now working closely with each of the Long Covid and Post-Acute hospital sites to expand the existing clinics where needed to provide a full scope of care,” the spokesperson said.

“It will also enable new clinics to be established at the named sites. Provision of new and additional resources to these clinics will ensure all services are operating to the same high standard of care. Recruitment has commenced at all sites.”

About the author:

Jane Moore

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