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More integrated care needed for long Covid services, study finds

More integrated care needed for long Covid services, study finds
By Jess Hacker
8 March 2022

Integrating care systems is ‘crucial’ to meeting long Covid patients’ care needs, according to a study published in the BJGP Open.

The study, which was a systematic review of how long Covid is managed in general practice, found that GPs believed there was a lack of guidance when managing Covid-19 patients discharged from hospital, in particular.

They claimed that the ‘true level of need’ was only understood after a patient had returned home. The GPs called for further direction to steer patients’ care and recovery after the fact.

Given the range of symptoms associated with long Covid, integrating care systems is ‘crucial’ to meeting long Covid patients’ care needs, the authors said, supported with referrals to specialty services when necessary.

However, research detailing the specific contribution GPs can make throughout this pathway is ‘lacking’, they suggested.

Better follow up services

GPs also reported that referring long Covid patients to community follow-up services was ‘difficult’, with some confusion around whose responsibility it is.

The systematic review, which sought to clarify how long Covid should be managed in general practice, found that GPs identified a need for ‘improved follow up services’ for post-ICU Covid patients, similar to the community teams supporting those recovering from a stroke.

The authors highlighted the need for ‘strong links’ between GPs and these services given that most referrals come from general practice.

Similarly, they identified uncertainty among GPs as to how to manage patients with long Covid within general practice.

GPs were concerned about the complex psychological needs of patients recovering from severe Covid, suggesting that there is a ‘disproportionate emphasis’ on their physical health.

They also reported being uncertain on how to diagnose long Covid issues, stemming from the fact multiple definitions have been proposed, with some symptoms overlapping with other conditions.

However, the authors suggested that GPs can play a key role in excluding alternative diagnoses and serious complications during a consultation.

The latest data shows that 2.4% of the UK population – or 1.5 million people – are living with long Covid lasting longer than four weeks.

Meanwhile, a study had previously found that more than a quarter of practices are not using long Covid coding following a consultation.

Analysis recently indicated that NHS trusts in England lost at least 1.8 million full-time equivalent days in staff absences in the first 18 months of the pandemic due to long Covid.

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