The South Australian Government has launched dedicated long COVID-19 clinics at four major hospitals to provide targeted treatment and support to the growing number of people battling lingering effects from the virus.
People experiencing long-term symptoms can now access special clinics at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Flinders Medical Centre. The Women’s and Children’s Hospital is also offering a specialist service tailored to children with long COVID symptoms through its outpatients clinics.
In a statement this week, the SA Government said it was preparing for long COVID cases in the wake of the Omicron wave, and that a system-wide approach was necessary to ensure the state’s health services can respond swiftly and effectively.
The Government cited evidence from overseas and interstate showing that a number of people who contract the virus will suffer longer lasting effects, more than 12 weeks after acute illness, meaning that additional healthcare and support is required.
Nurses, doctors, and allied health professionals will staff the clinics. Patients will need to be referred to the clinics by their GP, where they will be reviewed.
Clinic staff will work with the patient and their GP on plans to manage and improve their symptoms, and could be referred to other health professionals for further treatment.
The RAH’s long COVID clinic, for example, provides an expert triage service to patients to direct them to the most appropriate specialist care within a team of professionals from a broad range of medical fields. Patients with long COVID will require support from at least one specialist and the hospital’s team includes experts in cardiology, respiratory medicine, rheumatology, renal medicine, haematology, neurology, psychology, psychiatry, general medicine, immunology, rehabilitation medicine, and occupation therapy.
“If you believe you have long COVID please talk to your GP,” Health and Wellbeing Minister Chris Picton urged.
“Importantly, we can all do something to reduce our chances of getting long COVID. If you are fully vaccinated and contract COVID it appears you have less of a chance of having long COVID.”
According to Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr Emily Kirkpatrick, long COVID sufferers frequently experience problems with anxiety, depression, mobility, pain and discomfort. It impairs their ability to function normally compared to pre-COVID and they invariably have trouble performing daily living activities such as working and caring for family.
“These people ultimately seek health support, and we are putting groundwork in place to ensure sustainable services are in place in the community and in our hospitals, to support long COVID,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.
“Early interventions are in place through SA Health’s GP Liaison team, which identifies and supports GPs in the community to help patients suffering from symptoms four to six weeks after acute illness, to reduce their risk of long COVID developing.
“Symptoms of long COVID include fatigue, shortness of breath and cognitive dysfunction, which can fluctuate or relapse over time. This ensures those who are vulnerable are on our radar and can transition to appropriate long COVID care within our hospitals if they continue to suffer symptoms beyond 12 weeks.”