The number of people suffering with long Covid should be published routinely, as happens with those infected with or hospitalised with coronavirus, MPs and peers are urging Boris Johnson.
The cross-party group of parliamentarians want the prime minister to ensure that the “untold human suffering” that the condition involves helps shape future government policy towards the pandemic.
Thirty-two MPs and 33 peers have signed a letter urging Johnson to give greater priority to the potential harm posed by long Covid following the Office for National Statistics’ finding last week that an estimated 1.1m people are suffering its effects – far more than previously thought.
The signatories come from eight parties and include the Tory MP Dr Dan Poulter, a former health minister; Lord Darzi, the surgeon and ex-health minister; and the SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford, who is an NHS breast surgeon.
In the letter, coordinated by the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, they say: “Cases, hospitalisations and deaths are not the only measure of this pandemic. We urge the government to also count the number of people left with long Covid, many of them whose lives have been devastated by this pandemic.
“Your government has pledged to be guided by ‘data not dates’. This pledge risks becoming an empty slogan unless comprehensive data is collected on long Covid and factored into future decisions.”
Public sector workers such as health staff, teachers and transport workers are the most affected by long Covid, the ONS found. Symptoms include pain, exhaustion, heart problems and “brain fog” that often leave those affected unable to work or function normally.
Poulter said the ONS figures should act as a wake-up call as to the true prevalence of the post-viral syndrome. “The government needs to consider the potential long-term impact of coronavirus, including for otherwise fit and healthy people, as the lockdown is eased. Failure to do so risks placing even more pressure on our already overstretched health service and leaving more people suffering with long-lasting symptoms from this cruel disease.”
The letter calls long Covid “the hidden health crisis of the pandemic” and says: “Those suffering from long Covid were largely overlooked during the first and second waves in this pandemic. Given what we now know about this condition, it would be unforgiveable to make the same mistake again.”
The Labour MP Andrew Gwynne, another signatory, who suffers from long Covid himself, said: “The government’s current approach seems to be focused only on the short-term, while ignoring the long-lasting consequences of coronavirus and the human suffering it causes. It risks causing a ticking timebomb for our NHS, economy and the key workers most likely to be affected by long Covid.”
In the minutes released on Monday of a meeting of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), held on 31 March, its members – who include England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, and the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance – said that while the vaccination programme meant fewer people would end up in hospital with or dying of Covid, “there will be other impacts, including post-Covid syndromes (‘long Covid’).”
Sage stated: “The overall prevalence and impact of these syndromes is not well understood and nor is the potential role in vaccination in preventing them. This needs to be considered when assessing the impact of different levels of prevalence.”
Downing Street was approached for comment.