A charity has seen the number of people seeking help for Long Covid double, and is warning that NHS services are failing to meet demand.

Asthma and Lung UK said around half a million people have visited its Long Covid advice web pages or called its helpline for support in the last six months.

The number of people viewing the web pages nearly doubled from September to March, as cases of Omicron rose across the UK, it said.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that an estimated 1.8 million people in UK households (2.8 percent of the population) were experiencing Long Covid as of April 3 – the most recent data available.

Of these self-reported cases, the majority had first contracted Covid (or suspected they had) at least 12 weeks previously.

There are an estimated 83,000 people living with Long Covid in Wales, according to self-reported figures collected by the Office for National Statistics.

MORE NEWS:

Should the Welsh Government refuse to enforce 'authoritarian' Westminster laws?

New trail for old stories: the Mabinogion comes to Pontypridd

The chronic illness is still poorly understood by scientists and doctors, and treating it has been described by experts as “the next great challenge” of the pandemic.  

Fatigue is the most common symptom reported (51 percent of those with Long Covid), followed by shortness of breath (33 percent), loss of sense of smell (26 percent) and difficulty concentrating (23 percent).

Some 1.2 million people (67 percent of those with Long Covid) say symptoms stop them doing some or all of their normal activities.

According to Asthma and Lung UK, many callers to its helpline are at crisis point, with some asking for advice on buying oxygen to manage their long Covid breathlessness. This can be dangerous if it is not issued on prescription.

The helpline has also taken calls from people wanting information on private healthcare providers because they are struggling to get help from the NHS.

Here in Wales, the Welsh Government has vowed to tackle the crisis, and has said that its Adferiad recovery program, which has received more than £10 million in funding, is providing effective local care for those struggling with the condition.  

Last month, however, patients living with Long Covid in Wales told The National that the treatment they've received has not been good enough, with several being forced to turn to private healthcare.  

“When I saw a neurologist, he just told me that he didn’t even know why I was there,” one sufferer explained.

“He said, ‘we’ve agreed that we’re not going to see people with long Covid.’”   

A report by the Bevan Foundation thinktank found that patients in Wales “have had disjointed care, sought private care and some have given up seeking help.”

It noted that many patients “found it difficult to access healthcare professionals, appropriate investigations and baseline tests to properly assess for Long Covid.”  

Freedom of Information data obtained by The National from all seven Welsh health boards revealed that their rehabilitation pathways are currently supporting less than 1,500 Long Covid patients in total. 

Asthma and Lung UK said many more thousands of people could be waiting to access care.

Sarah Woolnough, its chief executive, said: “As we near the grim milestone of two million people living with long Covid, there is still a dismal lack of treatments for this disabling condition, which is leaving people fighting for breath and devastating every aspect of their life, health, work and relationships.

“Coupled with a lack of support and long wait times for specialist care, hundreds of thousands of people are turning to charities like Asthma and Lung UK, desperate for vital advice and support.

“With cases only rising, the problem is not going to go away.

“The Government must invest in more research into possible treatments and staffing for long Covid clinics to help people with this new and unpredictable condition to get their lives back on track.”

MORE NEWS: 

Boris Johnson ‘in cahoots’ with DUP on Stormont blocking tactics, Sinn Fein says

Drakeford: It’s time to abolish the Wales Office

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Long Covid is a new challenge for healthcare systems all over the world and the UK is leading the way on research, treatment, care and guidance.

“We are backing our world-leading scientists with over £50 million to better understand the long-term debilitating effects of Covid so we can ensure the right help and the right treatments are available.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said recently: “We believe our approach of treating, supporting and managing people through our unique service model is the most efficient and effective way of achieving the best outcomes for people experiencing Long Covid."

Additional reporting: Tom Carter

If you value The National's journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.