Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services
This Written Statement provides an update on action in Wales on Long COVID since the last Written Statement on 20 January.
On 1 March, the new Wales COVID-19 Evidence Centre became operational. Its function is to analyse the impact of coronavirus and use research-based evidence to address new challenges as a result of the global pandemic. The Centre will work closely with the Welsh Government, the NHS and social care in Wales to provide the necessary evidence needed to address many of the questions identified in the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) paper mentioned below in order to make evidence based decisions to support people with their recovery from the virus. The centre’s work programme is in development and is expected to include research activity on Long COVID.
On 3 February, the TAG published a paper entitled ‘Long Covid – what do we know and what do we need to know?’
This helpfully pulled together latest UK and international evidence and research to support current policy and local action and identified further important research questions to understand and monitor the impact of Long COVID on individuals and services in Wales.
On 16 March the NIHR published a second themed review which highlights an increased focus on gathering the research evidence around Long COVID. The review notes particular research gaps and the ongoing need to create a firm evidence base to support the development of service models and management of care.
On 12 March, the Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing and the Welsh Language met with Ministers from the other 3 UK countries to agree shared priorities and areas for collaboration on Long COVID. These will now be progressed through the collaborative work on the pandemic by the 4 UK Chief Medical Officers and include research and modelling the numbers of people with Long COVID and the impact on services.
In terms of NHS Wales’ response to date, our approach continues to be founded on our vision in A Healthier Wales, of avoiding harm, promoting and supporting self-management and value based, seamless care from the right health professionals or service, at or as close to home as possible and agreeing care tailored to each person’s specific health and wellbeing needs. Primary and community care services draw in the expertise of secondary care specialists for those individuals where this is needed.
The NHS Wales COVID Recovery App, launched on 20 January to support anyone recovering from COVID 19, has been downloaded nearly 4,000 times. It provides advice from therapists, psychologists, dietitians and consultants; and includes aids to track progress.
All health boards continue to work closely with their GP practices and community services to evolve their local pathways for timely access to the right professional or integrated service for each individual.
On 22 February, Andrew Goodall, Director General for Health and Social Services and the NHS Wales Chief Executive, wrote to Health Board Chief Executives with the All Wales Community Pathway for Long COVID. This Pathway complements the NICE clinical guideline for Long COVID, published in December 2020, both of which health boards are using to underpin their local pathways. This ensures a consistent response across Wales.
My officials and health boards are engaging with patient support groups to listen to people’s experiences. This insight is helping to identify and shape what further improvements are needed.
Dr Frank Atherton, Chief Medical Officer has written to all health professionals in NHS Wales to highlight the NICE clinical guideline for Long COVID and urging them to familiarise themselves with their health board’s local pathway for accessing services.
Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW) has launched a web page with links to published resources and information to help professionals deliver effective, high quality care. The page includes links to the Health Boards’ ‘COVID Recovery’ pages, which contain advice and strategies to help individuals to manage their recovery and how to access local services.
By the end of March, all GP practice systems will have the codes for recording people with Long-COVID. This important data, together with the ongoing research will inform future local service planning and delivery.