Hundreds of thousands experiencing long Covid for a year or more, figures show

Hundreds of thousands of people across the UK are experiencing long Covid lasting a year or more, new figures suggest.

An estimated 385,000 people in private households in the UK have experienced long Covid lasting for at least a year, up from 376,000 a month ago.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), also suggest 962,000 people in the UK were experiencing long Covid in the four weeks to June 6, defined as symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after their first suspected coronavirus infection.

The ONS estimated that long Covid was negatively affecting the ability of 634,000 people – around two-thirds of those with self-reported long Covid – to carry out daily activities.

Of these, 178,000 said their ability to undertake day-to-day activities had been “limited a lot”.

Prevalence of self-reported long Covid in the UK
(PA Graphics)

Fatigue was the most common symptom affecting people with long Covid (535,000 people), followed by shortness of breath (397,000), muscle ache (309,000) and difficulty concentrating (295,000).

Those aged 35 to 69 were most likely to report the condition, as were women and those working in the NHS, social care or living in deprived areas.

It comes after a study found that only a small proportion of cases of long Covid are being recorded by GPs.

There is no agreed definition of long Covid, but symptoms include fatigue, muscle pains and ongoing issues similar to those seen in the initial infection.

Previous research has estimated that as many as two million people in England could be suffering ongoing symptoms after a Covid-19 infection.

Experts from Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said their study raised questions about how long Covid is diagnosed, recorded and managed in the NHS.

They found that only 23,273 cases were formally recorded between February 2020 and April 2021 at GP practices in England.

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More than a quarter of practices (26.7%) had never logged a case, according to the article in the British Journal of General Practice.

Academics suggested there could be a number of reasons for the findings, including patients not yet seeing a GP about symptoms, doctors having different diagnostic thresholds or criteria, and issues around how the diagnosis is recorded in GP computer systems.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on coronavirus, said MPs had heard from the British Medical Association that a steep rise in Covid infections will have a “huge impact” on the NHS as people go on to develop long Covid.

She said: “Covid is not like the flu, it can cause long-term serious illness in otherwise young and healthy people, including children.

“Even those who are not hospitalised have a risk of developing this debilitating condition, leaving them needing ongoing support for many months to recover.

“Yet we’ve heard how the current patchwork of support services for long Covid patients is already overstretched and under-resourced, leaving people waiting in pain for treatment.

“The new Health Secretary must consider the impact of long Covid ahead of lifting restrictions on July 19 to prevent another wave of cases that could have a devastating impact on our health service and economy.

“Gavin Williamson must also consider the risk posed by long Covid to pupils as part of plans to relax Covid measures in schools.

“The Government’s current approach risks condemning thousands more people to live with the cruel impact of long Covid while struggling to access the support they need.”