Long Covid

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10th June 2021.

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Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

4. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its treatment plans for people with long Covid. (S6O-00020)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

It is crucial that our decisions are based on the latest available evidence and, of course, clinical guidance. Our approach is for people to have access to the support that they need for assessments, diagnosis, care and—importantly—rehabilitation in a setting that is as close to their home as possible.

National health service boards right across Scotland are co-ordinating and providing local pathways to ensure a multidisciplinary and person-centred approach in their local area. Additionally, we invested more than £460,000 in Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland to enable it to deliver long Covid support services, which complement the support that is being provided by NHS Scotland.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

I welcome that answer from the cabinet secretary and the work that has been done.

I have a constituent who is continuing to struggle with long Covid. He has raised with me the idea of a Scottish national register for long Covid patients. Is that something that the Government will consider? He has also several times raised the idea of Covid clinics, such as those that are in England. Is the Government still looking into those?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Yes, I have been considering the issue of the register, and we have never ruled out the idea of Covid clinics. If Fulton MacGregor was listening and watching First Minister’s questions, he would have heard the First Minister address that very point.

I can understand why members might ask for the establishment of long Covid clinics in Scotland. It is important that we understand as much about long Covid as possible before we do that. It is also clear that one size does not necessarily fit all, so just because an approach has been implemented in one part of the United Kingdom does not mean that we can transplant it to Scotland.

We have invested in a multi-agency, multidisciplinary approach that uses both primary and secondary care, and we are ensuring that the support—the rehabilitation and care—that an individual needs is as close to their home setting as possible. I will continue conversations that we are holding across political parties and—importantly—with clinicians to see how we can tackle the condition, which we are obviously still learning more about.

Photo of Sandesh Gulhane Sandesh Gulhane Conservative

I heard the response to the question about long Covid at FMQs and the cabinet secretary’s response now. I have to say that I am disappointed. General practitioners are under tremendous strain and pressure, and we simply cannot cope with long Covid in our 10-minute appointment slots. I have spoken in the press and in the chamber about its devastating effects on my patients. The research that the First Minister spoke of will take two to three years to come back, and that is too long for my patients. Will the cabinet secretary meet me to engage on giving new money for new long Covid clinics, using models that already exist and which we have adapted to suit all of Scotland, not just the central belt, in order to give those patients hope? I declare an interest in that I am a practising doctor.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I am happy to meet Dr Gulhane, and I give a commitment to do so.

I take some exception to one or two of Dr Gulhane’s characterisations. I do not accept that it is simply GPs who are picking up the burden, although they are undoubtedly carrying a portion of it. The point of our multidisciplinary support approach is that we provide holistic support, and that is provided by a range of national health service services, such as wider primary care teams, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, and others. We have published the implementation support note, which gives details of the pathway through primary care and into secondary care, too.

I have been looking at some of the detail around long Covid clinics in England, and of course I am happy to take that up with the member, but I notice that the evaluation that was published on 13 May by the peer support and advocacy group Long Covid Support found that, of respondents who had sought a referral to a long Covid clinic, less than 30 per cent were satisfied with the experience. Indeed, some of those who were waiting for a referral had been waiting for as long as 127 days. It is not the case that simply because something has been implemented in England means that we can transplant it to Scotland.

If Dr Gulhane has ideas—and given his question, he clearly does—about how we might be able to adapt some of the good practice in any part of the UK, I am more than willing to meet him to listen and engage in that respect.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

The cabinet secretary will know that I asked the First Minister about long Covid clinics earlier today. Her response was pretty identical to a response that I received eight months ago, and the cabinet secretary’s response now does not reflect the experience of people on the ground. I entirely accept that we need holistic support but, at the moment, there is little to no support at all for constituents in my area. People are suffering from long Covid and they need help now, not at some point in the future. Can the cabinet secretary tell me what he can do to speed up the establishment of specialist clinics?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I disagree with some of the characterisations in Ms Baillie’s question. To suggest that those people do not have any support whatsoever does a disservice to the support that is being provided by GPs, other primary care givers and secondary care givers. It is not the case that individuals with long Covid—[Interruption.] If Ms Baillie would listen, as opposed to shouting to me from a sedentary position, I might be able to engage better on the issue. It is not the case that those patients are not getting any support whatsoever.

With regard to specialist clinics, I have just read some of the lived experience and feedback from people with long Covid in England, over 70 per cent of whom were not satisfied with the support that they had been receiving—or not receiving—from long Covid clinics in England and Wales.

I will, of course, engage with Ms Baillie; I have previously engaged with her on occasion, and I will continually do so throughout the period. However, although I am happy to have a conversation with her about what more support we can provide, I am afraid to say that it is not as simple as transplanting a model from England up here in Scotland. We need to take into account our country’s unique geography as well as the unique healthcare set-up of our national health service in Scotland. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we can and should engage on this matter to see what more support we can provide for those suffering from long Covid.