Almost 200 people suffering from Long Covid are on a waiting list for a first appointment in the Southern Trust.
Upper Bann MLA Diane Dodds revealed this week that the current waiting time for a first appointment at a Long Covid Clinic in the Southern Health Trust is 36 weeks.
The DUP MLA expressed her concern. “This is the longest waiting time in any of the Trusts across Northern Ireland.”
“The Health Minister must do more to ensure that those who are still suffering the consequences of Covid are being properly cared for.”
“I have written a letter to the Health Minister and to the Chief Executive of the Southern Trust to ascertain how they intend to address the current backlog.”
What the Southern Health Trust said
In response, the Southern Health and Social Care Trust said it launched a dedicated assessment and treatment service for people with post COVID-19 syndrome in October 2021.
A Trust spokesperson said: “The service aims to support those with longer-term physical or mental health symptoms, lasting more than 12 weeks since infection. Since it started the one-stop-shop clinic has supported 413 patients referred by their GP or hospital consultant.
“After an assessment by the team including Specialist GP, Nursing, Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy professionals, patients are offered expert advice, therapeutic support and may be referred to other services as needed to manage symptoms and help their recovery.
“There are currently 185 patients waiting for a face to face appointment for the post COVID-19 service in the Southern Trust.”
Statement from Interim Director of Older People and Primary Care
Brian Beattie Interim Director of Older People and Primary Care said: “Whilst the introduction of this service is a very welcome development for those experiencing long term symptoms from COVID-19, we recognise that there are currently many more people waiting on our support who we would love to be able to see sooner.
“The demand for the service, complexity of symptoms, patient preference to be seen face-to-face, along with continued workforce challenges are all factors which are regrettably impacting on waiting times for patients.
“We continue to work with colleagues regionally to address these challenges to ensure that we can help more people with post COVID-19 syndrome to return to their normal activities and lifestyle.”
A Trust spokesperson added: “The team are currently developing an information pack to support patients who are waiting to attend an appointment. A personalised service focused on respiratory rehabilitation and dysfunctional breathing is now providing rehabilitation for patients with significant symptoms post COVID-19. Specialist Nutrition and Dietetic assessment and support is also now established for patients post COVID-19.
“Plans are currently underway to develop the service further by offering respiratory diagnostic tests, Psychology and Speech and Language Therapy support.
“The team is aiming to develop specialised support for the many patients who are reporting fatigue as a main symptom.
“They also hope to offer rehabilitation support to patients discharged from critical care both with COVID-19 and non-COVID symptoms.
“If you suspect you have post COVID-19 syndrome, please contact your GP or hospital consultant who can organise referral to the service if appropriate.”
What the Department of Health said
A spokesperson for the Department of Health, when asked about the waiting times for Long Covid, said the Health Minister issued a release recently outlining plans for reshaping hospital care. The release outlines the Minister’s position regarding the steps required to tackle waiting lists and share a link to it.
The statement said Mr Swann met a cross-party group of MLAs. The discussions addressed the challenges facing the health service, the actions currently being taken and what is needed for the future.
The spokesperson added: “This included the pressing need to rebuild and expand capacity to reduce waiting times and better meet patient needs.
“This will mean changing how we do some things. And yes, that will include reorganising how some services are provided, to create more centres of excellence able to deliver the quality and scale of services people need.
“The design plan will build on clinically led service reviews, public consultations and the strategies already in place – our building blocks for the future.”