Young people’s hubs to be part of NHS Long Covid service expansion

Oxfordshire will have a specialist NHS Long COVID service for children and young people, as part of a national £100 million expansion of care for those suffering from the condition.

Young people’s hubs to be part of NHS Long Covid service expansion

The existing Oxfordshire Long COVID service for adults is run jointly by Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust. This service has been running since late 2020 to help people suffering from long-term effects of COVID-19 to recover.

Following the recent announcement, they are now beginning work to set up one of 15 new paediatric hubs, which 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.

The boost for dedicated services for young people is part of a national 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 rehabilitation services.

Respiratory Consultant Emily Fraser, who heads the long COVID service for OUH, said:

“This additional funding for long COVID services is very welcome. The integrated clinics we run with Oxford Health enable us to assess patients holistically, investigate appropriately and provide individualised patient-centred care tailored to need.

“We are looking forward to being able to expand our service, reduce waiting times to ensure that all long COVID sufferers have equal access to high quality care, including children and adolescents. The funding for the development of a dedicated a paediatric hub is welcome.”

Emma Tucker, Post-COVID Rehabilitation Coordinator from Oxford Health, said:

“The work that we have done with adults suffering from long Covid in recent months has been really valuable and will support the delivery of expanded rehabilitation provision in Oxfordshire.

“We are really excited about the government’s pledge to continue to invest so that we are able to further develop what we do.”

Some estimates suggest that 340,000 people may need support for the condition, including 68,000 who will need rehab or other specialist treatment.

As well as the funding for paediatric services, 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.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens set out the plan to deal with the COVID ‘legacy’ at the annual NHS Confederation conference. He said:

“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 per cent of children aged 2-11 and 8.2 per cent 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. These 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.

It will also provide a huge boost for online services for the condition – the Your COVID Recovery website will allow anyone with long lasting symptoms 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.

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Published: 23 June 2021