People suffering long Covid symptoms will be offered specialist help at clinics across England, the head of the NHS has said.
Sir Simon Stevens also announced that £10 million will be invested this year in additional local funding to help kickstart the clinics around the country.
Medical evidence and patient testimony is showing that a small but significant minority of people who contract Covid still have the effects of the virus months after falling ill.
Estimates suggest that 10% of Covid patients may be experiencing symptoms more than three weeks after infection, and as many as 60,000 people after more than three months.
A five-part package of measures to boost NHS support for patients was announced on Wednesday.
Health experts welcomed the move, saying it was “long overdue”.
Among the measures was the introduction of designated long Covid clinics across England, which will provide services such as physical, cognitive and psychological assessments to patients.
Sir Simon also announced that research on 10,000 patients will take place, looking at better understanding the condition and refining appropriate treatment.
He said: “While this is still a relatively new virus, we are learning more about Covid with every passing week. It is now clear that long Covid can have a major impact on the lives of a significant minority of patients weeks or months after they have contracted the virus.
“So just as the NHS quickly put in place specialist hospital care for acutely ill Covid patients at the start of the pandemic, now we must respond sensitively and effectively to these new patient needs.”
An online rehab service to provide personalised support to patients, updated clinical guidelines on support for long Covid patients and a new NHS England task force were also among the announcements.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “As cases rise and admissions for Covid-19 increase, there is no question that the challenges trusts face heading into winter are formidable, and the most difficult days may be ahead of us.
“It was good to hear about the growing focus on the long-term consequences of Covid-19, with funding for long Covid clinics to support capacity – including in the community – to offer patients holistic support.
“We also note that an announcement on capital funding for the eradication of mental health dormitory wards will be forthcoming in the next few days.
“This is long overdue and we look forward to hearing the details.”
Dr Graham Jackson, chairman of NHS Clinical Commissioners, said: “It is essential that our clinicians also have the right tools to help long Covid patients and we welcome the additional clarity that Nice guidance will bring.
“It is too early to know how many people are going to need some form of ongoing treatment or support, and whilst we have estimates, we know that this is another challenge to local health and community services as we deal with a second Covid-19 wave and also head into winter with its usual demands.”