Covid-19 patients are being left “broken” by long-term health issues that are not being taken seriously enough by the Government, campaigners say.
Thousands of patients across the UK say they are “debilitated” by new or recurring symptoms months after they initially fell ill with coronavirus.
Dr Ron Daniels, executive director of Sepsis UK, says there needs to be a rehabilitation “safety net” put in place to allow people who are deteriorating to receive immediate access to face-to-face care.
Experts have compared the condition of post-Covid patients with those recovering from sepsis, viral pneumonia or a major operation, leaving many unable to work or care for loved ones.
Labour MP Andrew Gwynne, 46, first had Covid symptoms at the beginning of March.
“The virus passed but the illness didn’t… I’m on week 17 of it now and there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” he told the PA news agency.
“Just doing simple tasks around the house and garden brings me out in sweats like I’ve run the London Marathon.
“It’s debilitating and I don’t think it’s being taken seriously enough.”
So-called “long Covid” sufferers are regularly reporting acute breathlessness, brain fog, rashes and fevers, but also heart problems and blood clots on the lungs.
Laura Stocks, a mother of three from Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, has been left unable to leave her bed after periodic relapses since her Covid symptoms almost four months ago.
“It was like someone had just punched me in the chest again and all the same symptoms happened,” the 37-year-old told PA.
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP) estimates around 100,000 taken to hospital because of the virus now require rehabilitation.
“But that’s just from the hospital and the challenge is we don’t know enough about the population at home or in care homes who will require the same,” Ruth ten Hove, the CSP’s assistant director, told PA.
“It requires a really big rethink at the Government level of what is important to the population and rehab is something that has been overlooked.”
Ms Stocks has been unable to offer her usual care to her two daughters, aged two and five, and a seven-year-old son.
“It was always me and the kids, but now I actually can’t be with them because I can’t run after them… it’s like a weird new being,” she said.
Dr Daniels told PA: “We have previously highly functional people who have been broken by this.”
He said recovery may follow a similar time scale to recovery from bacterial sepsis, with those patients told to expect to be “90% of their previous selves within 12-18 months”, but some Covid patients continue to remit and relapse.
“They get a bit better and then they have really bad days and we don’t fully understand that yet, we don’t tend to see that with sepsis,” he said.
Both Mr Daniels and Mr Gwynne called for financial support to be put in place for those who cannot return to work due to continued symptoms.
“I wouldn’t be able to do a 9-5 job in my current condition, I would make myself very ill if I even tried,” said the MP for Denton and Reddish.
“It’s also how it will affect the social security system… if there’s no recognition that this post-viral Covid syndrome exists then people are going to be sanctioned, lose social security payments through no fault of their own.”
When PA put the issue to the Department of Health, they pointed to the investment of £8.4 million into “world-leading” research on the long-term impacts of coronavirus, announced two weeks ago by Matt Hancock.
Later this summer the NHS is also releasing an online portal called Your Covid Recovery, a resource to aid with the physical and mental effects of the virus.
“(The Government’s online resource) is part of the solution but if it’s the only solution it will fail,” said Ms ten Hove.
She said there needs to be a “joined-up” strategy towards physiotherapy.
“We want to look at the way people are working and integrate properly with the leisure and fitness sectors so they feel really confident to help manage people with long term conditions,” she said.
Ms Stocks said the Long Covid Support Group Facebook community, a group of over 8,000 people, has been a lifeline as she saw “carbon copy” symptom patterns to her own being shared on the social media page.
Before accessing the group, Ms Stocks said she had begun to question herself despite her ailments, something many others reported.
“One GP told me it was anxiety and to calm down,” said Poppy Hodgson, a 45-year-old from south-east London.
Elena, a 37-year-old patient from Hastings, East Sussex, said she has been made out to be a “hypochondriac”.