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HSE to determine scale of post-Covid illness

The HSE is examining how it can “model” the possible numbers affected by prolonged Covid-19 symptoms, according to a spokesperson.

In addition, guidance is being developed to “align needs with care provision and to develop criteria and strategies for the ongoing evaluation of patients”.

A national approach to long Covid is currently under consideration, confirmed the HSE’s spokesperson.

There is still “a lot of uncertainty” in the international literature about how many people experience prolonged symptoms “so it is extremely difficult to determine the scale as yet in Ireland, however we are monitoring the situation very closely”, outlined the HSE.

The HSE is examining how to best estimate the scale, a process it predicated will take “some time” and require continual review.

There is no agreed international name for the sequelae of Covid-19, but it may be described as prolonged acute sequelae of Covid (PASC) or long Covid.

The HSE said it is “certainly accepted that people are suffering from a range of symptoms after infection with SARS-CoV-2”.

“Fatigue is a common symptom after many viral infections and while most people recover in a short few days or weeks it can be prolonged and more severe for others,” noted its spokesperson. “The reason for this is unclear. We would usually expect people to make a full recovery over time.  Covid-19 is a multisystem infection and may impact people in differing ways.”

Specific guidance on what has been referred to as the ‘long-tail’ of the illness is presently under development both in Ireland and internationally.

“People who have had Covid-19 are being followed up by their doctors as appropriate – this is usually their GP, and in the case of those who required hospitalisation and/or ICU admission, this is hospital-based.

“Longer-term observational studies will be required to understand the health consequences presently being attributed to post Covid-19 infection. The HSE has been in touch with and will be engaging with a group of people who are suffering post-Covid symptoms.

“Guidance is being developed to align needs with care provision and to develop criteria and strategies for the ongoing evaluation of patients. There are a range of supports available in general practice, and for those who have been hospitalised, in the hospital setting, and we are working on developing those supports.”

Commenting recently in the Medical Independent, Mr Martin Varley, Secretary General of the IHCA, said a HSE policy on long Covid was “urgently required”.

“This is currently under discussion between the HSE and employee representative organisations. The WHO has published revised clinical management guidelines on long Covid, which include recommendations on the use of care bundles to systematise care provision for Covid-19 patients.

“The decision to define care pathways for healthcare workers with long Covid remains with the HSE. This needs to be expedited. The NHS has earmarked significant funding to establish new long Covid clinics across England, to complement existing care. We need to examine the need to replicate this for Irish patients and healthcare staff.”

Mr Varley said the IHCA had been contacted for advice and support by a number of consultant members affected by and suffering from long Covid.

“More than a quarter of respondents to a recent survey of IHCA members, carried out in February 2021, confirmed that long Covid appears to be prevalent among staff who have contracted the disease and it is a major concern for them. This is supported by experience from the UK, where it is estimated that up to 30 per cent of doctors were affected beyond the acute Covid.”

For further information on recovering after Covid19, see https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/recovering-after-coronavirus.html

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