Long Covid 'postcode lottery' in Yorkshire as promised clinic in Rotherham fails to materialise

A Yorkshire MP has criticised a "postcode lottery" for sufferers of 'long Covid' in the region after it emerged that promised clinics set up by local NHS trusts to treat the condition had not yet been set up.

Rotherham’s hospital trust has not established a clinic for patients suffering with the long- term symptoms of coronavirus despite NHS England claiming it was in operation by December.

Though the NHS England website lists the Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust as hosting one of 11 operational long Covid clinics in Yorkshire, the trust told the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Coronavirus it “does not run a long Covid clinic”.

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The NHS said a clinic had been set up by the York and Scarborough Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in December.

When Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the specialist clinics in December, he stressed the “huge impact” long Covid can have on those affected and noted: “We are doing everything we can to support people who are still suffering with effects on their health.” Stock Shutterstock image

But the trust said while it had been remotely assessing post-Covid patients since the end of March, "a monthly face-to-face assessment clinic where patients will be seen by a Respiratory Consultant and a Respiratory Physiotherapist" would not open until later this month.

According to the NHS, by December 69 long Covid clinics were open bringing together doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists to offer both physical and psychological assessments and refer patients to the right treatment and rehabilitation services.

But findings obtained through Freedom of Information requests by the APPG reveal several of the long Covid clinics were still not up and running in Yorkshire months after they were promised.

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First of its kind Long Covid research carried out by Sheffield Hallam University

According to the NHS, by December 69 long Covid clinics were open bringing together doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists to offer both physical and psychological assessments and refer patients to the right treatment and rehabilitation services.

But findings obtained through Freedom of Information requests reveal several of the long Covid clinics were still not up and running in Yorkshire months after they were promised.

The long Covid clinic at Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust did not go live until March 2021 and The Mid Yorkshire Hospital NHS Trust until April 2021 despite the government announcing both were operational from January 2021.

An estimated 1.1 million people are living with long Covid across the UK, of whom 102,000 are living in Yorkshire, the equivalent of nearly one in 50 of the region's population.

According to NHS bosses, 80 long Covid clinics have been established in every local health area in the country and there is now at least one for each of England's 42 'integrated care system' areas.

But Labour's Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel, a member of the Coronavirus APPG, said: “It is a disgrace that in some areas of Yorkshire people living with long Covid still do not have access to a clinic, despite reassurance from the government. Too many long Covid patients still feel like the forgotten victims of this pandemic.

“As we see here in Yorkshire, a patchwork of rehabilitation services has created a postcode lottery, leaving many still struggling to access the support they need.

“Those living with long Covid in our region deserve an explanation from the Health Secretary as to why there is still no help available in some areas, months on from when they were first promised.”

A spokesman for The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust said it was "in the process of setting up and recruiting for a long Covid assessment service, which will open in the coming months".

He said: “In the meantime, we have been continuing to care for people with long Covid through our respiratory clinics, aided by general practice colleagues and a social prescribing team to ensure patients are referred to the right place for their needs.”

A York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spokeswoman said: “Since the end of March 2021 we have been remotely assessing post-COVID syndrome patients to determine the most appropriate onward services and support.

“From June 2021 onwards we have a monthly face-to-face assessment clinic where patients will be seen by a Respiratory Consultant and a Respiratory Physiotherapist.”

The research also found that nationally 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.

When Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the specialist clinics in December, he stressed the “huge impact” long Covid can have on those affected and noted: “We are doing everything we can to support people who are still suffering with effects on their health.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “Within a year of long covid emerging as a condition, the NHS has invested £34 million to establish over 80 long covid clinics in every local health area in the country – the clinics are already open and helping thousands of people get support.

“The NHS will continue to respond quickly as new evidence emerges on long covid and anyone who has long lasting symptoms of the virus should get in touch with their local GP so the NHS can provide the care they need, regardless of where they live.”