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First national advisers for long Covid appointed


By Jess Hacker
23 September 2021

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NHS England has named two new national clinical leaders to advise on long Covid as part of a series of appointments to support the pandemic recovery.

The leads will advise Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, and will support local NHS teams working to improve long Covid services.

Dr Melissa Heightman – one of the two new national advisers – is a respiratory physician and clinical lead for the Post-Covid Clinic at University College London Hospitals, and consultant lead for the Post-Covid Network in North Central London.

Previously, she had advised the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the National Institute for Health Research-funded STIMULATE-ICP research programme on care and treatment for patients experiencing long Covid.

She will be joined by Dr Graham Burns, consultant physician and lecturer at Royal Victoria Infirmary and Newcastle University, and president of the British Thoracic Society.

During the pandemic, Dr Burns set up a respiratory support unit and a post-Covid assessment clinic which became models replicated by other hospitals and in national NHS guidance.

The two will work alongside GP Dr Kiren Collison, chair of the Long Covid Taskforce, which consults with patient representatives, clinicians and researchers to support the NHS Long Covid Plan.

The number of people in the UK living with self-reported long Covid has remained relatively consistent over the summer, with the most recent ONS data putting it at 970,000 people, or 1.5% of the population.

However, a recent study found that more than a quarter (26.7%) of GP practices in England have never used the clinical codes for long Covid since their introduction in November 2020.

NHSE has also appointed:

  • National Clinical Director for Urgent and Emergency Care: Professor Julian Redhead, medical director for the North West London Integrated Care Partnership
  • Joint National Clinical Directors for elective care: Stella Vig and Ian Eardley. Ms Vig is director of elective recovery at Croydon Health Services NHS Trust. Mr Eardly is a consultant urological surgeon in Leeds.

The appointments come as the NHS prepares for the winter, which usually sees the health service under increased pressure.

As many as three-quarters of trust leaders are concerned such a crisis this year would seriously disrupt attempts to clear the backlog for care.

Meanwhile, recent analysis has shown that the Government will have to spend nearly £17bn if it intends to clear return hospital waiting times to 18 weeks during this parliament.

The latest NHS performance stats put the estimated care backlog at over 5.6 million patients.

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