GP warns on dangers of ‘long Covid’

‘Possibly millions’ of the workforce ‘will have been taken out by this’

Friday, 28th May 2021 — By Tom Foot

Anna Porter

Dr Anna Porter: ‘I had Covid confirmed again in December – I was totally unable to get up’

A GP signed off work with “long Covid” has warned the government to get serious about the condition which could force hundreds of thousands of health care workers onto long-term sick leave.

Dr Anna Porter was fit and healthy before she caught the coronavirus in December 2020.

Six months later the 40-year-old has found herself struggling to walk up a flight of steps and pick up her children from school, and does not know when she will be able to go back to work.

She has been unable to access treatment on the NHS because of a health care “postcode lottery”.

She told Extra: “The government needs to realise there is a huge tranche of young, fit, and healthy members of the workforce who will have been taken out by this – hundreds of thousands, possibly millions – and we don’t know for how long yet.

“Many of these people have been struck down while doing their jobs, working within the NHS or care sectors. Many of them are highly trained, skilled individuals who are not easily replaced.”

A campaign to recognise long Covid as an occupational disease is growing, calling for sick pay to be awarded to GPs who are privately contracted to match the system for hospital doctors.

Dr Porter said: “I had Covid confirmed again in December. I was totally unable to get up. I had bad headaches, nausea, numbness, and tingling everywhere. I could barely make it a few steps to the bathroom for about two weeks and lost four kilos in weight.

“I was completely exhausted after making even just a few phone calls,” she said.

“I spent every moment of any time off work in bed. By mid-January I realised I couldn’t go on. I haven’t worked since. I have young children and, as the main earner in the family, there is enormous pressure on me to return to work.”

Dr Porter had left London before the corona-virus pandemic to bring up her young children in Kent. But she found that in her new home town there was no treatment on offer for long-term effects of the virus available on the NHS.

This “postcode lottery” has meant she has had to pay to see consultants at University College Hospital, in Bloomsbury, privately.

She said: “I often go for weeks without leaving the house. I sometimes have to lie down after emptying the dishwasher.

“I’m worried. My four year-old is starting school 200 yards away. I’m concerned that by September I won’t be able to walk him to school and back each morning, let alone work.

“I led a really active life. I was attending three yoga classes a week. I jogged. I had no problems. Now I can’t even walk, sometimes, a few metres. The idea of being a normal, functioning, working person is not even on the horizon at the moment. I am very much disabled by this at present and I’m only 40.”

The UCLH-run long Covid clinics are monitoring the lasting damage caused by the virus and for related symptoms like blood clots, problems in the brain, spinal cord, skin, joints, and bowels.

Experts believe that long Covid happens because the virus is disrupting a vital part of the nervous system.

Dr Porter said: “I hope that with increased media exposure the government and employers will start to take this condition more seriously and understand the extent to which so many people are suffering.”

Patients are advised to seek help from a GP if Covid-19 symptoms last longer than four weeks.

An NHS spokesperson said: “We are seeing an increasing number of patients through our network of clinics… and are continuing to learn about the best treatment options for this complex condition.

“The national guidance is clear, that the clinics should offer patients physical, psychological, and cognitive assessment and access to a multi-disciplinary team, which we will be offering to more patients in the coming months.”

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