HSE urged to establish research unit dedicated to Long Covid

More than 5% of Covid-19 patients suffer symptoms eight weeks later, study shows

Cork North Central TD Colm Burke says international research has found that Covid-19 can have long-term effects on people who contract the disease and Ireland needs to address the issue as a matter of urgency. File photograph: iStock

Cork North Central TD Colm Burke says international research has found that Covid-19 can have long-term effects on people who contract the disease and Ireland needs to address the issue as a matter of urgency. File photograph: iStock

 

The Health Service Executive (HSE) should establish a dedicated health unit to research the long-term effects of Covid-19 and to support patients, including healthcare staff, suffering the consequences of the disease months after contracting it, a Government TD has urged.

Fine Gael spokesman on health and Cork North Central TD Colm Burke said international research has found that Covid-19 can have long-term effects on people who contract the disease and Ireland needs to address the issue as a matter of urgency.

“During the past year a lot has been learned about Covid and what are effective treatments. As knowledge of the disease continues to grow, a new aspect of the disease has been observed, which is described as Long Covid,” said Mr Burke.

“Some patients make a very slow recovery and for others a full recovery does not appear to be in sight. The symptoms of Long Covid may include chronic fatigue, joint pains, breathlessness, brain fog, lung damage, damage to other internal organs and disruption to the body’s regulatory systems.”

Last month, Dublin couple Marcus Stewart (40) and Susan Wrafter (37) told The Irish Times how they were still suffering the effects of Covid-19 more than a year after contracting the infection during a skiing holiday in Austria in March 2020. As Covid-19 is a relatively new disease, the couple, like others suffering from Long Covid, have no idea how long the disease will last.

Mr Stewart said: “We’d be grand for a while and then we would be hit with it again. We don’t get the fever anymore but we get the extreme fatigue. Every time I exercise, that’s when it really kicks in – I just hit the wall. I feel and look like death. I’d be up all night, sweating vinegar.”

Ms Wrafter, who represented Ireland in touch rugby two years ago, spoke of suffering similar long-term effects after a year of frequent hospital visits: “There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. You think you are making progress and are over the worst it, and then it rears its ugly head again.”

Research

A recent study by medical scientists at King’s College London found that more than 5 per cent of Covid-19 patients continue to display symptoms of the disease more than eight weeks after contracting it, Mr Burke said.

Given such findings, it was imperative that the HSE urgently establish a research unit that would explore how many people who contract Covid-19 in Ireland go on to suffer from Long Covid and would plan for the impact of Covid-19, particularly on healthcare workers, he said.

“I understand that some hospitals have established post-Covid clinics to follow up with patients who need further care, but a network of clinics should be established to focus on research and treatment of the condition,” he said.

“If 5 per cent of patients suffer from Long Covid then the numbers suffering from the condition in Ireland may exceed 10,000, and as the number of infections continue to rise, so too will the number of those suffering from Long Covid,” Mr Burke added .

“In particular, the HSE and private healthcare providers have a duty of care to healthcare workers who put their health and their lives on the line during the pandemic. During the past year more than 27,000 healthcare workers became infected with Covid.”

Mr Burke said a full range of supports must now be put in place for healthcare workers suffering from Long Covid: “Doing so will save lives and keep many thousands of people free from a very serious disease. The vaccines are already having an impact on the trajectory of the virus. We will hopefully be in a much better place by June.”