Scotland will not create 'long Covid' clinics due to lack of understanding of condition

Scotland will not set up a network of clinics for long Covid sufferers in the near future – due to a lack of understanding about the condition, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

In a response to a question at First Minister’s Questions from MSP Jackie Baillie about when a network of clinics to help people suffering from long-term effects of coronavirus would be created, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government had not done so because it was not yet clear what kind of specialists would be needed to treat patients in such clinics.

Long Covid is when people who have been infected with the virus are suffering symptoms weeks and months later.

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Some are short of breath, have chest pain, problems with memory and concentration, insomnia, depression and anxiety, headaches, skin rashes and changes to sense of smell or taste. Others have ongoing fatigue, akin to other chronic illnesses such as ME.

Jackie Baillie at the Scottish Parliament. Picture: PAJackie Baillie at the Scottish Parliament. Picture: PA
Jackie Baillie at the Scottish Parliament. Picture: PA

Ms Baillie said: “In July, October and in December 2020, I asked the Cabinet secretary for health about long Covid clinics. At the time I was told that guidelines would be published at the end of that year, and specialist clinics would be set up. Six months on and I'm not aware of any specialist clinics.

"There are 60 in England, a further 20 planned.

"Long Covid has affected some 87,000 people in Scotland. They are desperate and those with the means are turning to the private sector – that just exacerbates inequality. Can the First Minister tell me how much longer they will need to wait, many of them in pain, for specialist, long Covid clinics?”

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Ms Sturgeon said: “People who are suffering symptoms that may be associated with what is known as long Covid should be accessing their GP services and being referred on as appropriate.

"I've discussed this in some depth with the national clinical director and the chief medical officer.

"One of the issues in establishing specialist clinics at this stage is that there is still a lack of understanding of exactly what specialisms are needed to respond to long Covid because we don't yet fully understand all of those symptoms and the cause of those symptoms.

"So what we are doing in Scotland is funding a number of research projects to develop that understanding. And then from that understanding we will establish the longer term provision.

"It is really important that we do that as quickly as possible, but right now, with the lack of understanding of it, we cannot say for certainty exactly what specialisms are needed in a specialist clinic, because we have to do the research to learn more about this disease than before we get to that stage.”

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In a separate discussion in Holyrood on Thursday, ​Glasgow MSP Sandesh Gulhane, who is a practising doctor, warned that research into long Covid would take years.

"The research the First Minister spoke of will take two to three years to come back and it's too long for my patients," he said, adding the Scottish Government could look to the models used in England to set up clinics.

Health secretary Humza Yousaf said that he would meet with Dr Gulhane to discuss the issue, but insisted that patient satisfaction with Covid clinics in England was low.

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