Australian doctors struggling to meet demand of patients seeking help for long Covid, inquiry told

Long Covid clinics across the country are being inundated with requests for assessments from patients struggling with ongoing symptoms, an inquiry has heard.

Doctors told the federal parliamentary inquiry into long and repeated coronavirus infections that they were struggling to keep up with demand as waitlists increased.

At least 10 million Australians have been infected with Covid and it is estimated 3-5% will develop long Covid at some point.

Long Covid is characterised by long-term health issues including heart palpitations and extreme fatigue, occurring three months after someone first develops Covid symptoms. To be classified as long Covid, symptoms then need to last at least two months, according to the World Health Organization.

“Our waitlist is increasing because what we’ve observed is that it can take some time for the recognition of post-Covid conditions, particularly with the fatigue-predominant types, to reach us,” Royal Children’s hospital Associate Prof Shidan Tosif told the inquiry on Wednesday.

Patients are usually referred to specialist clinics through a GP and while there is no official cure, symptoms can sometimes be treated on a case-by-case basis.

The inquiry by the House of Representatives health committee is investigating the economic, social, educational and health impacts of long Covid and repeat infections.

Infectious disease physician Dr Irani Thevarajan from Melbourne’s Peter Doherty Institute said more resources were required to keep up with demand.

“I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelming the health system, I just think we’ve got an increased demand and we’re trying to meet that demand by increasing our resources and capacity,” Irani said.

The deputy director at the Burnet Institute, Prof Margaret Hellard, said official data on how many Australians were suffering from long Covid was not yet known – but is generally quoted as 3-5%.

“If you’ve got 10 million people infected, if it’s 3%, that’s 300,000 people … big numbers,” she said. “Even if they are overestimates, in a disease where there’s a high proportion of the community getting infected, then a small percentage becomes consequential.”

Meanwhile, New South Wales has scrapped mandatory reporting of positive Covid tests and in Victoria, masks will no longer be required at schools.

Physical distancing measures and staff vaccination requirements will also be scrapped and alerts about positive cases at schools will no longer happen as the Victorian pandemic declaration comes to an end at midnight on Wednesday.

Nationally, it will no longer be mandatory to self-isolate at home if you test positive for Covid from Friday.

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