The Government has launched a study into the long-term physical and mental health impact of Covid-19, in order to evaluate which rehabilitation services will need to be put in place.
Health secretary Matt Hancock announced that the study would be backed by £8.4m worth of Government funding and include 10,000 patients who have survived Covid-19 and been discharged from hospital.
The news comes as GPs are already seeing a need for Covid-19 rehabilitation services within local communities, with patients experiencing symptoms weeks after recovering from the illness.
The new research will look at the impacts of the illness on mental health, and the influence of gender and ethnicity on recovery in order to develop strategies for the long-term care of patients.
The work, which is funded via the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), will be led by the University of Leicester and the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.
UK research and innovation chief executive Professor Ottoline Leyser said: ‘We have much to learn about the long-term health impacts of Covid-19 and its management in hospital, including the effects of debilitating lung and heart conditions, fatigue, trauma and the mental health and wellbeing of patients.
‘For many people survival may be just the start of a long road to recovery.’
Mr Hancock said: ‘As we continue our fight against this global pandemic, we are learning more and more about the impact the disease can have not only on immediate health, but longer-term physical and mental health too.
‘This world-leading study is another fantastic contribution from the UK’s world-leading life sciences and research sector. It will also help to ensure future treatment can be tailored as much as possible to the person.’
Dr Stephanie deGiorgio, a GP working in urgent care in East Kent and co-founder of Resilient GP, welcomed the long-term research project.
She said: ‘At the moment we are definitely in a no man’s land when it comes to patients with ongoing symptoms and those requiring rehabilitation. [Rehab services] tend to be one of the underfunded sectors of the NHS and at the moment, there is pretty much nothing for Covid patients. Any research into the long-term impacts has to be welcomed.’
According to Dr DeGiorgio, the need for long term rehabilitation of patients coming out of intensive care was something that was just being recognised and understood before Covid-19 arrived.
She said: ‘The psychological trauma and the rehab, was just something that was becoming more discussed. But then Covid hit and obviously everyone has been dealing with the immediate issue of the really sick people and so it’s not something that has been hugely looked into yet. I think that we will need to get that up and running pretty quickly.’
But GPs say rehabilitation services will be required to treat patients who have been hospitalised as a result of Covid-19, as well as those who have experienced milder symptoms and did not require hospitalisation.
Dr Helen Miles, a GP working in Oxfordshire, said she has noticed an increasing demand for Covid-19 rehabilitation services in her practice, including from patients whose symptoms were mild enough not to require hospitalisation.
She told Healthcare Leader’s sister publication, Pulse: ‘We are just getting to the point where patients who were thought to have Covid-19 weeks or more ago are getting thoroughly fed-up with the fact that they are still exhausted, breathless, getting chest pain and often have other weird symptoms.’
Initially, Dr Miles had nowhere to send patients who were suffering from the aftereffects of Covid-19. But she told Pulse today, within her local area, it is now possible for GPs to refer patients to the community respiratory team.
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said: ‘Covid-19 is still a comparatively new illness that we are learning about all the time – and we are yet to fully understand how it affects people in the long term.
‘It’s vital that research into the long-term health implications of the virus informs not only treatments for individual patients, but the planning of services across the NHS, including primary and community care.’
NHS England has published guidance for primary care to support the immediate and long-term health needs of patients discharged from hospital after surviving Covid-19.
It has acknoledged that primary care servuces will have ‘increased demand’ placed upon them due to the care they will be expected to provide to Covid-19 patients discharged from hospital.