All national health service boards are providing support for people with long Covid, across local primary care teams, community-based rehabilitation services and referrals for further investigation in secondary care settings, where that is clinically appropriate.
For example, in September, I was pleased to meet the multidisciplinary team that is responsible for NHS Lanarkshire’s long Covid rehabilitation pathway, which covers the member’s constituency. That is delivering a single point of access for assessment and co-ordinated support from services, including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, psychology and speech and language therapy, depending on what is most appropriate for the individual’s needs.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that response and for his response to my recent written question on the matter. I welcome the development of the centre in Lanarkshire.
Over the past few months, I have been dealing with a constituent, Tracy McMullen, who has been in touch about her son Jonathan. I know that Tracy has also been in touch with the cabinet secretary directly. Jonathan is in his third year of suffering from long Covid and has been bed-bound for more than a year. It is truly a tragic set of circumstances, as he should be attending sixth year at high school, applying for university and having fun, but, instead, he cannot get out of bed most of the time.
Jonathan’s parents have found it extremely difficult to get any support through the NHS or to get him a diagnosis. They have found that primary care givers have no one to refer him to, and the family have had to turn to private providers, where he has recently been diagnosed with mast cell activation syndrome, which is common in long Covid. Hopefully, the symptoms can be treated, but that will be at considerable cost.
Is the Government undertaking any meaningful research into long Covid? When will multidisciplinary teams of knowledgeable healthcare professionals be established to help people such as Jonathan with diagnosis and medical intervention?
I thank Fulton MacGregor for raising Jonathan’s case in Parliament. I met his constituent Tracy in June, and I know from speaking to her just how challenging the symptoms are and what a detrimental impact they are having on her son, Jonathan. I have also written to Jonathan, and my understanding is that he has now been offered NHS support through the pathway that I referred to in my previous answer.
On the specific question on mast cell activation syndrome and research, the Scottish Government has worked with a range of specialists, including immunologists, to develop an implementation support note that provides practical information for clinicians on the identification, assessment and management of the long-term effects of Covid-19. That includes information on mast cell activation syndrome.
We have funded nine Scottish-led research projects on the long-term effects of Covid-19, with a total funding commitment of £2.5 million. Those studies aim to improve our understanding of the long-term effects of Covid-19 on physical and mental health in Scotland, and to inform clinical interventions to support recovery and rehabilitation. Although none of the projects focuses specifically on mast cell activation syndrome, our chief scientist office research funding schemes are open, and applications relating to the syndrome are welcome. Applications would go through the CSO standard independent expert review process to allow funding decisions to be made.
In October 2021, 90,000 Scots were suffering with long Covid. In May 2022, the Scottish Government announced that £3 million from its long Covid fund will be allocated in 2022. The number of Scots with long Covid is now 200,000, which is more than the population of Aberdeen. How much of the £3 million has been allocated and for what purposes? Does the cabinet secretary accept that the number of long Covid cases in Scotland will continue to boom, as has been the case over the previous 12 months?
I will write to Dr Sandesh Gulhane with the details not only of how much has been allocated but of how much has been allocated per health board, if he would find that useful. We can also give him some detail of each of the projects. As he will know, there is a £10 million commitment over three financial years.
The important point to make is that there is no doubt that there has been a rise in the number of those who are suffering from the long-term effects of Covid—we have seen that in the Scottish health survey and in Office for National Statistics data—so I expect health boards to readjust their spending in the light of the additional demands. The member will know that there is exceptional pressure on our health budget—in fact, my health budget is worth £650 million less than when it was set in December, as a result of inflationary pressures alone. We are in difficult financial circumstances, but, where we have an increase in demand, as we have seen with long Covid, I expect health boards to adjust spending appropriately.
Last week, Long Covid Scotland published a harrowing report that revealed that only one person out of the hundreds who replied had fully recovered and that relapses were common in four out of five people experiencing symptoms. Those are not just statistics; we are talking about our friends, our families and our neighbours.
Let me come back to the point about money. When the £3 million for long Covid services was announced, 79,000 people had been diagnosed with long Covid. According to the ONS, a year later, the number had increased to 202,000 people, which represents a staggering 155 per cent increase. Rather than leave cash-strapped health boards to pick up the slack, will the cabinet secretary increase the budget to meet that significant additional demand?
As I said to Dr Sandesh Gulhane in my previous answer, whenever there are increases in demand, we expect health boards to adjust their spending accordingly. As, I think, Jackie Baillie is quite aware, I have had to reprofile £400 million of funding in order to deal with the inflationary pressures that have impacted on our budget and to ensure that our NHS staff get a fair pay deal. She has stood up in the chamber and publicly criticised some of the reprofiling relating to mental health services, social care and primary care. Those were all really difficult decisions, and I took no pleasure in making them, but I had to make them because we live within a finite budget. If Jackie Baillie has any ideas about how else we should reprofile money and put it into, for example, long Covid support, I would be more than happy to have that discussion with her.