Unfortunately I didn’t get the opportunity to speak in today’s important debate on Long Covid. Here is what I was planning to say:
I welcome the debate today and thank the member for Oxford West and Abingdon for bringing this debate. Post viral pathologies are nothing new, often striking down fit, healthy and active young people. And unfortunately for those suffering for years, the lack of priority for research funding and treatment options in this area has left many feeling forgotten.
We must learn lessons from that. We cannot leave those suffering Long Covid to feel forgotten, with poor health outcomes.
In the discussion on the response to the public health crisis – in this Chamber and the media – there’s been a tendency to talk about the effects of Covid-19 in terms of those who have recovered and those who have lost their lives.
But these words paint a simplistic picture – Long Covid is a lasting condition. We don’t know the longer-term effects it will have.
We still know very little about the causes of this condition and– we’re not even sure if Long Covid is one pathology or many. What we do know from looking at the statistics is that it has the potential to create a large population of people with a condition we know relatively little about.
The ONS estimates that about 1 in 10 people suffering from Covid-19 experience Long Covid symptoms. Today, there are as many as 3.21 million cases in the UK. That’s a potentially staggering amount of people affected by the condition.
It should have profound consequences for how we approach the handling of the public health crisis.
Like most people, I celebrated the news of a vaccine – it’s a testament to the efforts of scientists, clinicians and researchers from across the globe. It’s right that delivery of the vaccine is prioritised to those who are most at risk.
But we still don’t know what makes people vulnerable to Long Covid – and in fact there have been cases reported of those who have had relatively mild Covid symptoms later crashing. Research must reflect this and not focus solely on those who were hospitalised. Obviously, the government must aim to reduce the number of deaths; but it should also reduce the extent of the morbidity associated with coronavirus as well.
Establishing Long Covid clinics is a step forward – although I note the patchy coverage of clinics in some areas –, but we need to know the best ways of staffing and resourcing them. As a matter of urgency, we need funding for research into the condition, to develop our knowledge about Long Covid and the clinical treatment it requires.
And we need to have more statistical reporting not only on deaths and new cases, but on those who have developed further morbidities as a result of getting the virus. This data is vital not only for informing our immediate public health response to the crisis, but also how we create the health infrastructure needed to deal with the potential long-term consequences of the pandemic. It would also help increase public understanding of Covid-19 and the need for further public health measures.
Long Covid isn’t a peripheral issue in the debate about the UK’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The issues it raises go to the heart of our public health strategy. According to the ONS estimates and the existing number of cases, there is a significant population of people who could now be living with a chronic disease.
Driving the infection rate down, investing in the research, and equipping policy makers and public health experts with the data, are vital for meeting the challenges of the pandemic. We owe it to the thousands of people suffering from Long Covid – and the thousands more who are at risk as the vaccine is rolled out – to take this action now, not only to get us through the immediate crisis, but to strengthen our position in facing the unknown problems ahead.