Hancock must apologise to long Covid patients left waiting over 100 days for treatment

  • Matt Hancock urged to apologise after figures reveal some long Covid patients are waiting over 100 days for treatment.
  • Several of the long Covid clinics promised by the government appear still not up and running, an investigation by the APPG on Coronavirus has revealed.
  • MPs are demanding more funding to treat long Covid patients and end the “postcode lottery” of care.

Matt Hancock is under pressure to apologise to long Covid patients, after an investigation by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG)1 on Coronavirus revealed that some are waiting over 100 days for treatment.

The figures reveal a “postcode lottery of care”, with some patients waiting as long as 127 days for treatment after being referred to their local Covid clinic, while others are seen in just four days. The research found three patients at one trust waited 100 days or more, one patient at another trust waited 102 days, while at another trust a long Covid suffererer waited 97 days.

The research, based on Freedom of Information requests, also found that several of the long Covid clinics promised by ministers were still not up and running three months after they had been announced. This is despite Matt Hancock previously claiming the government is “doing everything we can” to support long Covid patients.2

The government claimed during a parliamentary debate in January 2021 that a network of 69 long Covid clinics was already “operating” around the country and that hundreds of patients are already receiving treatment.3 However, data uncovered by the APPG on Coronavirus has found that in several of the areas listed4 as providing long Covid clinics, they were still not up and running by 31 March 2021.

Two trusts, Scarborough Teaching Hospital Trust and Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust, responded that there was no clinic operating or planned in their Trust. Another five trusts said that a long Covid clinic was planned but was not yet operational by 31 March. Several NHS trusts pointed to financial and operational pressures that have delayed the setting up of the clinics. Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust said that its clinic had “not yet started due to operational pressures in responding to recent covid surge” while Stockport NHS Foundation Trust said it had only been given “a small amount of money” to set up a clinic.

Chair of the APPG Layla Moran has demanded that the Health Secretary make an urgent statement to Parliament on the issue when it returns next week, to clarify how many long Covid clinics have been set up, how many patients have been treated and what the average waiting times are.

The research also found that for those clinics which are operational, there were large discrepancies in the numbers of patients seen in the period up until 31 March 2021. One trust had received 2,796 referrals, of which 498 patients so far had been assessed, while another clinic has seen just eight patients as it only went live in March. Another trust had received 700 referrals but all were still waiting to be triaged. In total 7,835 patients were referred to long Covid clinics at the 19 trusts which provided data on referrals, or an average of 412 per trust.

Four trusts provided a further breakdown on the long Covid treatments that they provided. Of the 677 patients treated at these clinics, 154 were referred to a digital app for onward treatment, 86 were referred to specialised pulmonary care, 76 to chronic fatigue clinics, 71 for mental health or talking therapies, 47 for physiotherapy and 24 for respiratory clinics.

It comes after the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics4 revealed an estimated 1.1 million people are living with long Covid across the UK, of whom 674,000 said it affected their everyday life and 196,000 said their ability to undertake day-to-day activities had been limited a lot.

Layla Moran MP, chair of the APPG on Coronavirus, commented:

“These figures expose the shameful postcode lottery of care facing those suffering with long Covid.

“Matt Hancock must come before Parliament and clarify why it appears that some long Covid clinics are still not up and running, despite having been promised months ago. He should also personally apologise to long Covid patients who are having to wait months on end in pain for treatment.

“It is intolerable that patients with this debilitating condition are still not receiving the care they deserve. The government must urgently increase funding for long Covid clinics, so that overstretched NHS trusts can offer treatment to all those who need it.”

Andrew Gwynne MP, a member the APPG on Coronavirus who has suffered from long Covid, said:

I’ve suffered the impact of long Covid first-hand and so know how serious the symptoms can be. This is a cruel condition that leaves many people struggling to carry out everyday tasks and suffering from extreme fatigue and persistent pain.

“These people need urgent treatment to help them recover, so it is shocking that some are having to wait 100 days or more to be assessed and treated.

“Ministers must address these unacceptable delays and prevent long Covid patients from being so catastrophically let down. We must not allow long Covid care to become the new “Cinderella” service of the NHS.”

ENDS

Contact: Paul Haydon, [email protected]

Notes to Editor

  1. March for Change, which provides the secretariat for the APPG on Coronavirus, sent Freedom of Information requests on 9 April 2021 to all 69 trusts listed as providing long Covid clinics, to understand the numbers of people referred to the clinics, the waiting times and the treatments on offer. Responses were received from 41 of the Trusts. More details on the findings of this research can be found below. A full copy of data broken down by trust is available on request.
  2. In a statement in October 2020, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Long covid can have a huge impact on people affected. So we are doing everything we can to support people who are still suffering with effects on their health. Since May, rehabilitation facilities and recovery services have been available to those who have suffered with the virus and I am delighted to see these becoming more accessible with the opening of specialist clinics right across England.”

  3. In a parliamentary debate on long Covid on Thursday 14 January 2021, Health Minister Nadine Dorries said “There are now 69 centres operating across England, where hundreds of patients are already receiving treatment”. She added that; “I pay tribute to the hard work and dedication of the NHS staff who set up these services to quickly meet sufferers’ medical needs all over England.”

  4. ONS figures: Prevalence of ongoing symptoms following coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in the UK: 1 April 2021

  5. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus has made a series of recommendations to improve support for those living with long Covid, after receiving evidence from a large number of long Covid sufferers. Last month, 65 MPs and peers wrote to Boris Johnson urging him to take into account the “untold human suffering” caused by long Covid and the risk that more people could develop the disease as the lockdown is eased. 

Additional background

No long Covid clinics operational

  • 13 of the 41 Trusts responded that there is no specialised long Covid clinic in their Trust. Of these, 2 Trusts (York and Scarborough Teaching Hospital Trust, Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust) responded that there was no clinic operating or planned in their Trust. York Teaching Hospital said “we do not have dedicated long covid centres or clinics,” while the Rotherham NHS Trust said it “does not run a long Covid clinic.”
  • Five trusts said that a long Covid clinic was planned but was not yet operational  (Buckingham Healthcare NHS Trust, Stockport NHS Foundation Trust, Mid Yorks Hospitals NHS Trust, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Guys and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust)
  • Four trusts stated that a different NHS organisation was responsible for the service (Berkshire Healthcare NHS Trust, East Suffolk and North Essex Trust, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and Barts Health NHS Trust)
  • Of those that said they had not yet set up a long Covid clinic, several pointed to financial and operational pressures. Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust said that the clinics had “not yet started due to operational pressures in responding to recent covid surge and deployment of teams”, while Stockport NHS Foundation Trust said it had been given “a small amount of money” to set up a clinic and is currently in the process of organising one. Meanwhile, Bolton said its long Covid clinic was “currently on hold” whilst it recruited more staff to fill posts at the service.

Other responses

  • Two trusts stated that long Covid was being treated within primary care (Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals NHS Trust).
  • Seven trusts provided no data on the grounds that this information will be published in June 2021 (Essex Partnership University NHS Trust, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, Lancashire and South Cumbria, Birmingham Community Trust, Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals,– as well as NHS England)
  • Two trusts said they do not hold the data as the clinic is run by a private provider (Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCG, Hull University Teaching Hospitals).
  • Two trusts provided partial information on the grounds that providing further information would be too time consuming (Sussex Community NHS Trust, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust);
  • One trust provided no data at all on the grounds that it would be too time consuming to extract the information (Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust).
  • NHS England responded to the Freedom of Information Request by saying that it “does not hold information at present” on the number of patients assessed at long Covid clinics, but that it would be publishing data on referrals, assessments and waiting times at the clinics from summer 2021.

Waiting times.

  • The range of the longest waiting times between being referred for assessment at a clinic and receiving treatment was between 4.2 days and 127 days.
  • One patient at Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust waited 127 days, one waited 112 days and one waited 111 days.
  • One patient at the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust waited 102 days.
  • One patient at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trusts waited 97 days.

Referrals

  • Of the 27 Trusts who replied indicating that there is a long Covid clinic in their Trust, 19 provided information on the number of referrals. The total number of referrals made over these 18 Trusts up until 31 March was 7,835, or an average of 412 per Trust.
  • For those clinics which are operational, the number of referrals made to the clinics from January to March 2021 was extremely variable. At the highest end, the University Hospitals of Leicester had received 2,796 referrals, of which 498 patients so far had been assessed. Meanwhile, North Lincolnshire and Goole had only seen eight patients, as its clinic only went live in March.  

Treatments provided

  • Four trusts (Royal Berks, Shropshire, Wiltshire, Hertfordshire) provided a breakdown on the long Covid treatments that they provided. This represents 677 patients. 

  • Of these, 154 were referred to a digital app for onward treatment, 86 were referred to specialised pulmonary care, 76 to chronic fatigue clinics, 71 for mental health/IAPT or talking therapies, 47 for physiotherapy and 24 for respiratory clinics. (Many patients are referred to multiple clinics).