The number of people longing for COVID help has doubled and the NHS is struggling to keep up, a charity has warned.
Asthma and Lung UK said that in the last six months, around half a million people had visited their long COVID advice pages or calling their helpline – and some are at “crisis point”.
There was a near doubling between September and March of this year, with the rise of the Omicron variant in the UK, the charity said.
An estimated 1.8 million people (2.8% of the UK population) had COVID-19 long ago as of 3 April – the most current data available from the Office for National Statistics.
Of that self-reported number, 382,000 had or suspected they had coronavirus less than 12 weeks before; 1.3 million more than 12 weeks earlier; 791,000 at least one year earlier; and 235,000 more than two years ago.
Fatigue is the most commonly reported symptom (51%), followed by shortness of breath (33%), loss of smell (26%) and problems concentrating (23%).
Two-thirds (1.2 million people) say the condition prevents them from doing some or all of their regular activities.
Some patients have asked for advice on buying their own oxygen to help with shortness of breath, according to the charity – a risk if not prescribed and monitored properly.
Others say they are asking about access to private care because they are struggling to get help from the NHS.
Thirty percent of people in long-term COVID clinics in England waited more than 15 weeks to be seen in March/April, according to NHS data.
The total number still waiting for an initial consultation is not published.
Yvonne Alder, 60, caught coronavirus during the first wave and experienced extremely long-term COVID symptoms.
She said she was unable to sleep through the night, walk unassisted and developed problems including type 2 diabetes, bronchiectasis and recurrent shingles.
Mrs. Alder is now unable to work and has installed a stairlift and uses an oxygen machine.
On one occasion, paramedics were called to her home when she passed out after going to the bathroom.
She said she didn’t hear anything for nearly a year after being referred to a lengthy COVID center and only went in after writing to her MP.
Ms Alder said she was seen once and is hoping to hear back about treatment options.
“The lack of support has been horrible,” she said.
“If I had the strength to protest in the streets, I would. What about those who are getting COVID-19 today? A tsunami of COVID patients has long been coming, but nothing has been done to help the first wave.
“There needs to be more support. It’s a hidden disability. Trust me – it’s life-destroying.”
Asma and Lung UK chief executive Sarah Woolnough said cases are continuing to rise and the problem “is not going to go away”.
She said “there is still a lack of treatments for this crippling condition, which is leaving people struggling to breathe and devastating every aspect of their life, health, work and relationships.”
“Along with a lack of support and long wait times for specialist care, hundreds of thousands of people are turning to charities like Asthma and Lung UK, desperate for vital advice and support,” he added.
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The charity is urging the government to invest more in research into treatments and provide more staff at long-term COVID clinics.
An NHS spokesperson said it had invested over £220m and opened 90 specialist clinics and 14 centers for children and young people with COVID a long time ago.
They added: “We urge anyone who is concerned about lasting symptoms after having coronavirus to contact their GP clinic or visit the NHS ‘Your COVID Recovery’ website for further advice on available support.”