Potential for burden on the health system due to lack of adequate patient supports for long COVID
New data released today has found that 10% of adults have experienced symptoms of long COVID following an initial period of infection with the virus. The data is based on a survey carried out by leading polling company, Ireland Thinks, and was commissioned by Denis Naughten TD.
Deputy Naughten has continued to call for long COVID to be recognised as an occupational illness for frontline workers, allowing them to avail of paid leave; while also urging the Government to address the prolonged care requirements of those who are actively living with long COVID.
The study is one of the first surveys to provide data on the lifetime prevalence of long COVID symptoms in the Irish population and demonstrates the need to fully implement the HSE’s recommended ‘three pillar’ approach to long COVID, one that incorporates patient-led rehabilitation, generalist assessment and support as well as specialist assessment and rehabilitation.
The polling data released today shows that:
- One in every ten adults have experienced symptoms of long COVID following a period of infection with COVID-19
- 12% of women reported having experienced symptoms, compared with 7% of men
- Of this group, 68% reported that their ability to conduct daily activities had been either “somewhat affected” or “severely affected” as a result of their symptoms
- The most commonly reported symptoms include: fatigue (81%), shortness of breath (57%), memory problems (53%) and sleep problems (48%)
Today’s poll demonstrates the gravity and scale of the issue and highlights the potential burden that could be placed on the national health system in the event that a significant number of patients are consistently presenting to hospitals with complex care requirements arising from long COVID.
While the HSE commissioned its own survey on long COVID just three weeks ago, the results are unlikely to be known for some time. As a result of this delay, Denis Naughten has commissioned a series of exploratory surveys, with Irish adults self-reporting symptoms of long COVID, similar to methodology used in the UK.
This series of surveys is the first of its kind to be conducted in Ireland and offers a stark perspective on the community prevalence of long COVID, which does not currently have a defined treatment pathway.
Deputy Naughten is calling on the Government to work in tandem with the HSE, patients, frontline clinicians and other stakeholders to expedite the delivery of a national action plan on long COVID – to include classifying it as an occupational illness for frontline workers, allocating funding to fully operationalise specialist clinics, and recruiting specialist clinicians across the health service.
Commenting on the research, Deputy Denis Naughten said: “The figures released today are indicative of the sheer scale and severity of this issue. That one in every ten adults experienced symptoms of long COVID following an initial period of infection should serve as a stark warning of the pressure that will be placed on our health system in the months ahead. While the symptoms of long COVID are currently ill-defined, they do include fatigue and brain fog, which are experienced at least 12 weeks after the initial infection for significant periods of time, in some cases over two years.
“It is clear that many patients have a significant and often complex symptom burden and need access to cross-speciality, multidisciplinary treatment. At present, many people are simply not receiving this care.
“There is now an urgent need to change tack and reconfigure our collective response to long COVID. As a priority, we need to establish fully functional multi-disciplinary long COVID clinics across our Hospital Groups, and ensure we have clinicians in place who can lead on service delivery. Patients are currently waiting, on average, approximately six months before getting a first appointment in a specialist clinic – this is far too long.
“Many of these people are unable to return to work, owing to the debilitating nature of their symptoms. This has now become a crisis of care. I am therefore calling on the Government to expedite the delivery of action to support patients with the symptoms of long COVID and ensure this crisis does not become a catastrophe.”
- Access the data behind this poll here: Second national poll on long COVID – Denis Naughten
- The World Health Organisation defines long COVID as the “continuation or development of new symptoms 3 months after the initial months after the initial infection, with symptoms lasting for at least 2 months with no other explanation”.
- A similar study carried out by Ireland Thinks and commissioned by Deputy Naughten in December 2022, found that at that time, 6% of adults in Ireland were reported as actively living with symptoms of long COVID. The most commonly reported symptoms included fatigue (84%), followed by shortness of breath (59%) and sleep problems (44%). Though this most recent survey focuses on the lifetime community prevalence of long COVID; fatigue, shortness of breath and sleep problems all remain the most commonly reported symptoms.
About the polling data:
The poll was conducted by Ireland Thinks on 3rd March with a sample size of 1,491. Ireland Thinks has a panel of 30,000 respondents – its algorithm chooses 5,000 specific individuals to take part in each poll. These individuals are selected based on their demographics and behaviours (age, gender, religious adherence, educational attainment, past voting behaviour) to ensure that they are an exact replica of the census, and within that, the general population. Polling is conducted via an SMS message that is sent directly to participants.
Respondents were asked whether they had ever experienced symptoms associated with long COVID following an initial period of infection with COVID-19. Those who reported symptoms were then requested to provide a timeline for the onset of those symptoms, to describe any changes to their ability to perform daily activities as a result, and to list symptoms they had experienced.
For more, visit: https://www.irelandthinks.ie/