How does long COVID affect quality of life?

New study aims to work out cost to NHS and support long-term care
COVID-19 3D visualisation. Credit: GreenPlate/Shutterstock

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) is to lead a new project to understand how long COVID impacts people’s quality-of-life.

The study is one of 15 new projects backed by government through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to investigate treatments, services and diagnostics for long COVID. Each study will draw on the experience and insights of patients and healthcare workers.

Latest research shows that although many people make a full recovery following COVID-19, a significant proportion of people continue to experience chronic symptoms for months. Working with partners, the LSHTM study aims to reveal if long COVID has different impacts among different age groups, ethnicities, geographic regions, or because of any underlying health conditions.

For many health conditions, researchers ask people to fill in standardised surveys which measure quality-of-life. These measures are used in planning the resources for health systems because they allow a standard way of comparing different health conditions, and, if people fill them in repeatedly, tracking changes in wellbeing over time.

By using a smartphone app linked to a patient’s GP records, the team aim to develop these measurements for people with long COVID who did not need to be hospitalised. These will be used to work out how much the effects of long COVID cost the health service, and how interventions, such as vaccines, should be prioritised to avoid more people getting long COVID.

Dr Rosalind Eggo from LSHTM and the project’s lead researcher, said: “COVID-19 is a devastating disease, causing death in the short-term and longer-term problems for many people who did not go to hospital for their initial COVID illness. Currently, we don’t know what impact long COVID will have on a person’s quality life. This new study aims to plug that knowledge gap.

“Working with other research groups, we hope to provide results that will support long-term care. At all stages we will work with people affected by long COVID to ensure their input is central to designing the study plans and interpreting the findings.”

Thousands of people suffering with long COVID will benefit from the 15 research projects backed by £19.6 million.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “Long COVID can have serious and debilitating long term effects for thousands of people across the UK, which can make daily life extremely challenging.

“This new research is absolutely essential to improve diagnosis and treatments and will be life-changing for those who are battling long-term symptoms of the virus.

“It will build on our existing support with over 80 long COVID assessment services open across England as part of a £100 million expansion of care for those suffering from the condition and over £50 million invested in research to better understand the lasting effects of this condition.”

Professor Nick Lemoine, Chair of NIHR’s long COVID funding committee and Medical Director of the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN), said:

“This package of research will provide much needed hope to people with long-term health problems after COVID-19, accelerating development of new ways to diagnose and treat long COVID, as well as how to configure healthcare services to provide the absolute best care. Together with our earlier round of funding, NIHR has invested millions into research covering the full gamut of causes, mechanisms, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of long COVID.”

LSHTM Scholarship Fund

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Scholarships are transformational, have the capacity to change the lives of the students who receive them, and alleviate the financial burden of study for talented and motivated recipients.