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Impact of long Covid on the brain ‘underestimated’ and not included in HSE treatment plan, warns leading doctor

There are calls for a new plan  to tackle long Covid

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Undated handout photo of Professor Jack Lambert

Undated handout photo of Professor Jack Lambert

Undated handout photo of Professor Jack Lambert

The residual damage to the brain in long Covid patients is underestimated and not recognised in the HSE’s plan to treat the condition, a leading infectious disease consultant warned today

Prof Jack Lambert, of the Mater Hospital, in Dublin, told the Oireachtas Health Committee that during 2021 a questionnaire of patients with Long Covid in his clinic showed one year on many had persistent brain fog, cognitive issues, exhaustion, sleep disturbances and psychological issues they did not have before.

The experience of long Covid patients can resemble a person who has had a closed head injury.

He said by the time the HSE’s draft long Covid guidelines were drawn up a year ago the “goal posts” had shifted.

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“The plan focuses on early post Covid-19 follow up with a group of eight pulmonary specialists and a cadre of dieticians and podiatrists with no mention of psychologists .

“However, for those of us managing patients in hospital the accumulating evidence at that time was that the lungs were healing, the heart was healing but the brain was not healing.”

He said he was surprised to see the Mater infectious diseases department was not included as a site for follow up, despite generating most of the scientific data in Ireland on the subject and he suspected, managing more patients with long Covid than any other site in Ireland.

He asked to meet the HSE’s national clinical lead to discuss the findings of his research in April, but it was last Friday before he received a call - in advance of his appearance before the committee – asking for a meeting in the next couple of weeks.

Prof Lambert said he is proposing the Mater is the centre for neurorehabilitation with a national network to support GPs as there are so many patients throughout the country with long Covid and many cannot travel because they are so ill.

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He said it would focus on brain rehabilitation as patients with long Covid act very much like patients who have experienced closed head injuries.

The team would include neurologists, psychologists and psychiatrists as well as neuro physiotherapists.

He said his team will assist in rewriting guidelines in the HSE’s long Covid treatment plan.

He knows of patients who are discharged from post Covid clinics as nothing is found wrong with them.

Some have “bounced from one specialist to another and many thousands of euros worth of testing carried out."

He said: “I had recent contact from a psychiatric nurse who is one year with long Covid and has overwhelming anxiety and cannot attend work.

"She has been referred to a psychiatrist privately with the first appointment available in February 2023,” he said.

Patients are being prescribed medicines by GPs who do not have a proper referral pathway with pain killers, nerve blockers or addicting pills, he added.


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