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15th Jun 2021
The NHS has set up specialist Long Covid services for children and young people as part of a £100 million expansion of care for those suffering from the condition.
The 15 new paediatric hubs will draw together experts on common symptoms such as respiratory problems and fatigue who can directly treat youngsters, advise family doctors or others caring for them or refer them into other specialist services and clinics.
In the North West, there are two hubs, one at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool and one at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.
Some £30 million will also go to GPs to improve diagnosis and care for those with Long Covid while the new investment will also boost online services.
The boost to dedicated services for young people is part of a package of investment in a range of measures to help young people and adults with long Covid, including a major focus on specialist treatment and rehab services.
Some estimates suggest that 340,000 people may need support for the condition including 68,000 who will need rehab or other specialist treatment.
Sir Simon Stevens will set out the plan to deal with the Covid ‘legacy’ at the annual NHS Confederation conference.
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, is expected to say: “The NHS has worked hard to care for 400,000 Covid patients requiring hospital treatment and keep essential services going through successive waves and we now need to step up action to deal with the legacy.
“One of the major health challenges emerging from the pandemic is Long Covid with hundreds of thousands of people predicted to suffer debilitating health issues such as breathing problems and fatigue.
“That is why the NHS is now going to invest £100 million in specialist services, including care for children and young people so that parents know advice is on hand through the new hubs to provide patients and their families with the help, support and care that they need.
“This is just the latest example of how NHS staff have pulled out all the stops to provide care for those who need it throughout this terrible pandemic.”
More than one million people have reported suffering from Long Covid, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Symptoms include shortness of breath and extreme fatigue with almost a third of sufferers saying it has a significant impact on their daily life.
While the majority of children and young people are not severely affected by Covid, ONS data has shown that 7.4% of children aged 2-11 and 8.2% of those aged 12-16 report continued symptoms.
There is already a network of specialist Long Covid clinics which have been given £34 million of funding.
Some £70 million of the new investment will extend these clinics and set up the paediatric hubs.
The hubs will bring together expert clinical teams, including paediatricians, physiotherapists, nurses and occupational therapists.
The teams will offer specialist advice to family doctors, community nurses and others seeing Covid patients aged up to 18 so that they can get the help they need close to home.
The hubs will also see and treat the complicated cases directly or refer them into other specialist services.
Dr Swaminathan Kannan, Consultant Paediatrician at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital (RMCH), which is part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, said:
“At RMCH we have developed Long Covid clinics and a standard pathway across the Greater Manchester Integrated Care System.
This ensures all children have access to Long Covid services locally as well as referral into speciality clinics in RMCH for specific complications.
We have a specialist multidisciplinary rehabilitation service in RMCH for children who suffer from Long Covid symptoms including Chronic Fatigue that provides both virtual and face to face clinics.”
The paediatric hubs in the North West have already assessed some children and young people, including Cara, now 15, from Chester. Cara had COVID-19 in March 2020 after being in close contact to a number of children who had been to Italy. She was eventually referred to the Long Covid clinic at Alder Hey Children's Hospital.
Cara's mum Margo said;
"Cara was extremely active and was excelling academically and was loving lots of sports. She had been chosen to row for her school in Peterborough before she caught Covid-19 back in March 2020. The virus robbed her of all this and her social life overnight. She suffered from a whole host of symptoms, the main ones being chronic fatigue, debilitating crushing headaches and excruciating stomach pain.
"Thankfully we were referred to a Long-Covid Clinic at Alder Hey. Long Covid clinics mean people can access all the help they need under one roof. They are such a valuable and much needed resource. This is a very difficult journey and people need support. It's made me aware of how many children and adults have lost their favourite sports and passions.
“Many children like Cara are not yet back in full time education. Psychologically for a grown adult to not be able to do the things that bring them joy is incredibly tough. How do we explain to our children why they suddenly can't do all the things they used to love?”
"Thank you to Alder Hey Long Covid Clinic for all their advice, encouragement and support. Cara is starting to slowly rebuild and re-piece her life together. She is lucky to be able to do that and we're so thankful for all the wonderful people who are supporting her.”
The additional funding will also provide a huge boost for online services for the condition – the Your COVID Recovery website will allow anyone with long lastingsymptoms to access a range of advice without needing a referral from a healthcare professional.
The NHS is also exploring plans to launch a rapid access service for NHS staff to access long covid treatment through either occupational health or GP referral.
Alder Hey Children's Charity