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Ministers need to start taking the debilitating condition that is long Covid seriously

4 min read

Back in March 2020, in the early days of the pandemic, I contracted Covid-19.

Back then, we knew very little about the virus, and recorded case numbers in my constituency were tiny.

I was anxious about how the virus would affect me, especially given the stories that I had heard about cases spreading rapidly across Europe. I would never have imagined, however, that more than 20 months after catching Covid, I would still be managing the effects of my infection. 

The term “long Covid” was first coined in October 2020, some seven months after I first caught Covid.

I remember feeling a sense of relief that other people were reporting the same symptoms that I had been experiencing for such a prolonged period; my acute ones being brain fog, extreme fatigue and breathing difficulty. I was optimistic that given the increasing awareness of the illness, more support – both to individuals and to scientific research – from the government would be forthcoming. 

However, I find myself in January 2022 profoundly disappointed at the current state of play.

There are days when I genuinely worry that I’ll be having to manage these side effects for the rest of my life

Recent data released by the Office for National Statistics has found that there are 1.3 million people living with self-reported long Covid, and 64 per cent of those surveyed said their symptoms affected their daily activities. 

So far, the government’s response to this growing problem has been wholly inadequate.

There are 60 long Covid clinics to be referred to across England, and more than 90 assessment services for triaging patients. However, recent data released by the NHS shows that between October to November this year, just 5,997 patients had been referred to a Post Covid Assessment Service, and 33 per cent had been waiting over 15 weeks to be seen. Statistics also point to a postcode lottery for long Covid provision and referral. 

This stark data should raise alarm bells across government. I still suffer from long Covid, but I am lucky enough to have a job and a team around me that enable me to take time to recover when my symptoms become overwhelming.

I am very conscious of the fact that other people will not have this privilege. That being said, there are days when I genuinely worry that I’ll be having to manage these side effects for the rest of my life. There’s still so much that we don’t know about long Covid, and when you’re suffering with it on an almost daily basis, it can feel interminable and frightening.

If the government does not start properly tackling long Covid, it will impact everything ranging from workplace productivity to public health, to our prosperity as a society. The problem is vast, challenging, and cannot be ignored.

Covid has changed our lives in innumerable ways. People across the country have sacrificed an extraordinary amount. That makes it more imperative that we learn as much as possible from the pandemic and fundamentally change the way that we think about public health.

We can no longer ignore inconvenient or difficult developments; we need to be proactive and be ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, the government has been too slow to react to the rise of long Covid, and now Boris Johnson and his ministers are too distracted by the crisis in Downing Street to solve the crisis in health.

Put simply, we need to start taking long Covid seriously.

I know first-hand how damaging an impact it can have on someone’s life, and it is unacceptable that so many individuals are going without the security of basic support. It’s time for that to change, and for the government to treat long Covid sufferers with the respect that they deserve.

Andrew Gwynne is the Labour MP for Denton and Reddish.

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