Long-term COVID-19 symptoms in patients and doctors

Image of a healthcare professional in PPE washing their hands to show Impact of long-term COVID-19 symptoms on patients and doctors

Data released today as part of the BMA’s latest survey of doctors during the pandemic reveals significant levels of long-term COVID-19 symptoms in patients and doctors, highlighting concerns that the NHS will continue to experience pressure in the months ahead.

Of almost 4000 doctors in England and Wales questioned about their experiences over the last two weeks, almost a third1 have seen or treated patients with symptoms they believe are a longer-term effect of the patient having had COVID-19.

Symptoms most commonly reported in doctors and patients included chronic fatigue, reduced exercise capacity, muscle weakness, memory loss, concentration difficulties and loss of sense of smell.

Dr Richard Vautrey, Chair of the BMA’s GP committee for England, said: “It’s increasingly clear that the long-term impact of COVID-19 on individuals and on health services will be profound. These statistics suggest that patients are, even once they have recovered from the worst of this virus, still suffering the after-effects for some time.

“With more patients presenting with conditions as the result of infection, it’s essential that sufficient capacity is in place to support and treat them. With the growing backlog of non-COVID treatment, the likelihood of a season flu outbreak, and the possibility of a second wave of infections we need to see a more comprehensive long-term plan to enable doctors to care for their patients this winter and beyond.

“It’s also essential that the public are kept informed with more clear and consistent information about the risks of infection and how to avoid it, and any further easing of lockdown measures must be informed by the latest transmission rates.”

Additionally, of 4120 doctors who responded, a quarter believe that they previously have, or may have, had COVID-192.

Dr David Strain, BMA medical academic staff committee co-chair, said: “It’s not surprising that medical staff, who have been at the frontline during this crisis sometimes in far from ideal circumstances, have experienced high rates of infection – but it is not acceptable.

“The increasing evidence that COVID-19 patients can suffer long-lasting symptoms, irrespective of the severity of the initial infection, requires detailed study to understand what optimum treatment would be, and, preferably, how to prevent it occurring in the first place. Until this is known, it is imperative that the Government and the NHS does more to protect the medical community from infection. We cannot afford more failures of quality and supply in PPE. Risk assessments should be available to all working in the NHS, and appropriate steps should be put in place to mitigate the risk of catching the virus, even in those that have a low risk of a bad outcome from the initial infection.

“Doctors who have been shielding, either due to their own risks or due to the vulnerability of people they care for such as children with complex disease or elderly relatives, and have now been asked to return to work must be presented with evidence of the safety measures that are being put in place to make workplaces COVID-19 safe.”


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Sources

Doctors in England and Wales completed the survey between 6 and 12 August. Detailed results from the BMA survey will be published shortly.
1. 31 per cent of 3,729 respondents. Conditions reported in patients with continuing or new symptoms believed to have been caused by Coronavirus (1,092 respondents) include: chronic fatigue 78%; reduced exercise capacity 72%; muscle weakness 48%; loss of sense of smell 28%; dizziness 33.5%; concentration difficulties 44%.
2. Of the 4,120, 12% had a diagnosis confirmed by testing, and 14% had not. 63% did not believe they had contracted the virus.

Continuing or new symptoms that are believed to have been caused by Covid-19 that are reported by doctors who had contracted Covid-19 and have now recovered (1,030 respondents) include: chronic fatigue 21%; reduced exercise capacity 21%; muscle weakness 8%; Concentration difficulties 11%.