The test for long Covid cannot be performed in Ireland despite UK researchers having found a potential way to diagnose it, Denis Naughten TD has revealed.
“A new test which identifies previously undetected damage to the lungs of long Covid patients, and which may prove a vital tool in providing a definitive diagnosis for those who have not fully recovered from Covid-19 months after their initial infection, is not available to people in Ireland according to the HSE,” says Denis Naughten.
“The research team in the UK has reported the use of specialist MRI techniques to identify lung damage, which reduced the ability of oxygen to move from the lungs into the bloodstream, that does not show up on more traditional standard tests including x-rays or CT scans, but the HSE has confirmed to me that this is not available in any public hospital in Ireland.
“The HSE has told me that this diagnostic tool, known as a hyperpolarised xenon magnetic resonance imaging technique, is not in use at present with any of the MRIs that are in clinical use in the HSE funded acute hospitals.”
Denis Naughten added: “Last month, I published research that I had commissioned by the Oireachtas Library & Research Service that conservatively estimated 114,500 people in Ireland have, or will get, long Covid and that this figure is rising with the rate of Covid-19 infection.
“While this was an estimate based on the current scientific literature, it was the first time an attempt has been made to put formal structure on the scale of the long Covid health problem in Ireland, with some people suffering from this chronic condition having their concerns dismissed as being ‘all in their head’.”
To date doctors and patients have been relying on the World Health Organisation long Covid (or post Covid-19 condition) definition, which is a condition that occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS CoV-2 infection, usually three months from the onset of Covid-19 with symptoms and that last for at least two months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.
“This cumbersome definition effectively means it is only five months after the initial infection when everything else is ruled out, that a person can be categorised as a long Covid patient. This has huge implications for their medical care and rehabilitation, as well as leading to an expensive battery of diagnostic tests within our health system which already has huge waiting lists because of the Covid backlog.
“Therefore, the research paper from a team based in Oxford, Sheffield, Cardiff, and Manchester which used xenon gas MRI scans (Hyperpolarised Xenon Magnetic Resonance Imaging) showing a clear difference between patients with long Covid and those who had not contracted Covid-19, provides the potential for the diagnosis of long Covid patients complaining of breathing difficulties. However, because no hospital in Ireland uses such techniques, we may not be able to provide such a formal diagnosis,” said Denis Naughten.
“While breathlessness is just one of over 200 long Covid symptoms that have been reported in the scientific literature, problems with breathing is one of the most common symptoms of the condition, along with fatigue and brain fog.
“This UK pilot study of a small cohort of patients who contracted Covid-19 is now being expanded to a larger group of patients before any definitive conclusions can be drawn, however, should the results be repeated with the larger group, the tests will not be available to patients in Ireland, potentially undermining our ability to manage the care & rehabilitation of long Covid patients appropriately.
“With an estimated 114,500 people, and rising, having ‘long Covid’ in Ireland this is rapidly becoming a hidden iceberg of long-term chronic illness for our struggling health service.
“This number of people with long Covid unable to return to normal activities or employment months after becoming unwell could be a sleeping crisis for our health service that may overwhelm already horrendous hospital waiting lists,” said Denis Naughten.
“While the HSE stated last September that it planned to establish specialist long Covid clinics, only a Model of Care for Long Covid has been agreed, with the HSE now starting to implement it,” Denis Naughten told the Dáil last month.
“The HSE has stated that a variety of disciplines will need to be recruited to support these clinics and, as a result, it has no idea when long Covid clinics will become fully operational.”
Deputy Naughten went on to point out: “It is only after these become operational that pathways to and from GPs and community services will be established, even though many people with long Covid will have to rely on their GP to access a service initially.
“This slow rate of action is in stark contrast to dealing with primary Covid infection,” concluded Denis Naughten.
HSE Reply :HSE reply long Covid MRI
Watch full Dáil debate here: https://youtu.be/rpFOBsESLtc
Link to Oireachtas Library & Research Paper on Long Covid: https://denisnaughten.ie/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Long-Covid-Briefing-Paper-Jan-2022_Enq26-FINAL.pdf