GPs need extra resources to deal with workload impact of long COVID

GP practices will need additional resources to deal with long COVID as it starts to be treated as a long-term condition, a senior GP has said.

Dr Iona Health and Dr Oge Ilozue at the RCGP conference
Dr Iona Health (left) and Dr Oge Ilozue (centre)

Dr Oge Ilozue, a GP in London and senior clinical adviser to the COVID-19 vaccination programme in the capital, told the RCGP annual conference that she expected long COVID to be a 'major, major addition to the already massive workload of our practices'.

She said that while NHS England was commissioning specialist multidisciplinary clinics across the country specifically for those with long COVID, waiting times to access them were highly variable.

But even with these clinics, GP practices will see increased number of consultations involving patients with long COVID, Dr Ilozue said.

She said: 'Patients come back to us. We're the ones they talk to about their concerns about not being able to go back to work and not being able to look after their children, not being able to support financially their families.

'So we need to be given the resource and time and extra investment to be able to deal with this issue and the workload. It's going to be another long term condition that we need to tackle. So the investments into us, to educate ourselves and to be able to deliver that care is crucial.'

Long COVID prevalence

Figures from the ONS suggest that 2m people were living with symptoms of long COVID as of 1 May 2022, equating to 3.1% of the UK population.

More than two-thirds of people with long COVID have been experiencing symptoms for more than 12 weeks - and around a fifth have had symptoms for two years or more.

Also speaking at the RCGP conference, former college president Dr Iona Heath said there needed to be a 'wider approach' to dealing with conditions that had occurred as a result of the pandemic, including mental health issues, rather than only focusing on long COVID.

Dr Heath said: 'My worry is that I think the whole of society has been traumatised [by the pandemic] and the whole world is living through a sort of post-traumatic stress situation.

'I worry that the only legitimate means of processing that trauma will be to have a physical condition. The only attention you get is if you have a long COVID syndrome, where there is a special clinic set up for you, whereas a lot of people will be struggling but not following that path.

'There needs to be a rather wider approach to the sequelae of COVID, rather than just physical long COVID.'

Impact of fear on mental health

Dr Heath also criticised the use of fear as a public health tool during the pandemic, saying the decision was 'very dangerous' and would leave a long term impact on some people.

'We were told to stay in, to not touch each other. Fear was used. "If you do this you will die". That is a very traumatic thing to say to people, especially to young people who are just developing those contacts,' she said.

'We need to reflect on how much of that fear is legitimate. And there's still people trying to perpetuate it. And fear is very dangerous and we shouldn’t do it unless it is absolutely essential. We need to think deeply and hard about the legacy of fear that we are inheriting.'

Read more from the RCGP annual conference

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