Banbury victims of long Covid are being helped by a virtual clinic set up for those with ongoing problems caused by the virus

Victims of long Covid from the Banbury area are being offered by a new virtual clinic set up in Oxford to help them with their ongoing health problems.

Long Covid affects one in five of all coronavirus patients with one in ten having stubborn symptoms that go on for over three months
Long Covid affects one in five of all coronavirus patients with one in ten having stubborn symptoms that go on for over three months

The NHS has designated £10 million to run long Covid clinics in every area of England where specialists will assess, diagnose and treat thousands of people who have reported symptoms ranging from breathlessness, chronic fatigue and 'brain fog' to anxiety and stress.

Oxfordshire's virtual clinic has been set up at the Churchill Hospital. Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust clinicians have put together a multi-disciplinary team consisting of respiratory and rehabilitation doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists who are working together to assess patients using video consultations.

Patients are then referred to the most appropriate services, whether hospital-based clinics or community-based support.

According to research around one in five people who test positive for Covid-19 suffer symptoms for five weeks or longer and one in ten exhibit symptoms for more than three months.

Researchers estimated that during the week of November 22 alone, around 186,000 people in private households in England were living with symptoms that had persisted for between five and 12 weeks. Numbers will have risen sharply this spring with the new wave of Covid cases after Christmas.

The OUH said it was not able to give figures for the numbers of patients being referred to its clinic but some doctors believe long Covid is set to be a serious new pressure for the NHS to manage.

Professor Paul Elliott, Chair in Epidemiology and Public Health Medicine at Imperial College London, said: "Over the past 12 months, the acute impacts of Covid-19 have led to large numbers of hospitalisations and deaths but the longer-term impact of the disease remains unclear.

"Growing evidence suggests that even after recovery, many patients will go on to experience symptoms that persist for months, impacting on their everyday lives."

Researchers studying the condition are testing supportive treatments for particular symptoms of long Covid to improve the quality of life. A number of patients in the London-based study will receive blood and other biological tests to understand the immunology of long Covid and will wear a device that will measure their heart rate, oxygen saturation, step count and sleep quality.

The Oxford clinic is being run by two NHS trusts working closely together. They are the OUH and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, which together are among more than 60 sites running the assessment services which are taking referrals from GPs for people experiencing symptoms such as brain fog, anxiety, depression, breathlessness, fatigue and other debilitating symptoms. Physical clinics began in January.

People diagnosed with long Covid by their GP are contacted by a medical professional following a triage service and given support on managing their recovery.

OUH Respiratory Consultant Emily Fraser, who heads the long Covid service for OUH, said: "By working together, we can work out who will need clinic or community input or both. Patients may then move between Oxford Health and OUH services after assessments or if their needs change.

"It is a positive sign that the NHS is ramping up its efforts to tackle long Covid by giving patients access to specialist services. Covid-19 is still relatively new and as we learn more about the condition, treatment and tailored support will continue to improve."

Sara Bolton, Oxford Health's Associate Director of Allied Health Professions, said: "Oxford Health has been working for some time on helping people suffering from the long-term effects of Covid and we are pleased NHS England has provided funding for this service across the UK.

"We have been providing support to people suffering from long Covid for some time and have had good feedback from the people that we have helped.

"Patients can access services if they are referred by a GP or another healthcare professional, so that doctors can first rule out other possible underlying causes for symptoms."

* Long COVID can present with clusters of symptoms that are often overlapping and/or fluctuating. A systematic review has highlighted 55 different long-term effects but common symptoms of long Covid include breathlessness, headaches, cough, fatigue and cognitive impairment or ‘brain fog’. There is also emerging evidence that some people experience organ damage.

One study, led by Prof Elliott, will collect data in a bid to find common factors that may explain why some people get long Covid and others do not and to point to possible treatments. Another, based at the Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, is investigating long Covid in children and how it can be diagnosed and treated.

Another study is looking into the long term physical and mental health implications of Covid victims who have been hospitalised.