Coronavirus patients suffering long-term illness feel “abandoned” by GPs because they were never tested and have no proof of infection, it has emerged.
Growsing numbers are voicing concern that despite experiencing debilitating symptoms – many up to 20 weeks on – they have been left to “fend for themselves”.
They include large swathes who fell ill at the height of the pandemic, when testing was limited, who say that they are now struggling to be taken seriously by medical staff and are unable to access clinical support due to a lack of awareness about the virus.
Many claimed their GPs had been reluctant to refer them for tests or scans. One told The Telegraph they had been “fobbed off” with claims they were suffering with anxiety or even hayfever.
One who spoke to this newspaper said she felt the Government was only interested in statistics on new infection rates and deaths, rather than those still suffering many weeks later.
The disclosures come as the NHS announces a new, on-demand recovery service that will enable nurses, physiotherapists and mental health specialists to respond directly to patients’ needs.
The “Your Covid Recovery” service, to be made available later this summer, is aimed at those suffering longer-term complications. Created by Prof Sally Singh with a team from University Hospitals of Leicester NHS trust, it will offer patients face-to-face consultations with local rehabilitation teams who will then design personalised online support packages lasting up to 12 weeks.
Research suggests that one in three patients who recover from Covid-19 could be harmed for life, including long-term damage to the lungs, chronic fatigue and psychological disturbances.
Around 30 per cent may be left with damaged and scarred lung tissue, if it follows patterns of similar diseases, according to NHS guidance seen by The Telegraph.
A separate survey undertaken by one of the many online post-Covid support groups, which have thousands of followers, reveals that around 20 per cent of patients are still experiencing symptoms 15 weeks later.
Almost 85 per cent of more than 600 who responded said they felt GPs needed to be made aware of long-term symptoms while the majority said they felt they needed close monitoring and rehabilitation support.
Almost two in five said they felt they had had “very little support”, one in three felt “helpless and ignored” and around a quarter said they were bewildered that they were not getting more help.
The most common reported symptoms are headaches, chest tightness and breathing problems, a rapid heartbeat, trembling and dizziness.
Deborah Foley, 50, from south London, first developed Covid-19 symptoms in mid-March and says she is still suffering most days, despite doctors being unable to pinpoint any specific problem.
She said she had to sleep wearing a watch that woke her up when her oxygen level dips too low or it felt like she was suffocating in her sleep. “No one takes my symptoms seriously except the thousands now in Facebook support groups.”
Elena Goodsell, 37, who fell ill in March, said her GP had said that all he could do was prescribe pain relief and rest and even offered her anxiety medication. “I am definitely not suffering from anxiety,” she said. “I feel like I am being made to be a hypochondriac. I do not feel supported by my GP and am being left to suffer.”
Danny Altman, an immunologist at Imperial College London, noted that the majority of those reporting they had been infected had not undergone polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing – indicating current infection – and so had no documentary evidence of the virus.
“It would be inappropriate to suggest they are maligners or making it up,” he said. “I appreciate that they feel very unwell, very desperate and alone. There is clearly something going on.”
Dr Jonathan Leach, honorary secretary of the Royal College of GPs, said he was aware that some patients who were recovering from the virus had symptoms similar to other post-viral syndromes that could be related to coronavirus.
He said: “Patients should be reassured that GPs and their teams are working hard, utilising the most up-to-date clinical guidance, to deliver the most appropriate care and support they can, and that their concerns will be taken seriously. It is vital that as we understand more about the virus; clinical guidelines are rapidly developed to support GPs with treatment and management of Covid-19, so that we can provide the best possible care to our patients.”