Coronavirus survivors in Tayside must get the help they need to fully recover, campaigners have said.
It is feared hundreds of those who have been seriously ill with the disease will need support packages similar to those offered to people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Demand for such support was already rising before the pandemic and campaigners have raised concerns about staffing required to support the number of patients expected to need help to manage serious lung conditions.
The head of Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland has called for NHS Tayside to open discussions about introducing a support package currently only available to patients in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Prior to the pandemic, the number of people who have COPD in the area had already increased by 18% since 2011/12, to 11,517 people
Campaigner Ian Baxter, 71, said the Scottish Government must ensure all health boards are properly funded to roll out support programmes.
The retired police inspector from Forfar said: “They are going to have to pull their socks up and fund these programmes properly.
“They will be crucial for patients and they will help save a fortune in the long run.”
Mr Baxter said his own condition – not related to covid-19 – felt like “having to breathe through a straw” while doing everyday activities.
Coronavirus survivors with lung damage will need help to enable them to manage their own conditions, he added.
He said the programme he attended – led by a physiotherapist and respiratory nurse – changed his life.
Jane-Claire Judson, chief executive at Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, called for discussions with NHS Tayside on introducing its discharge and community support model ‘Hospital to Home’ to the area.
North East region MSP Bill Bowman, Conservative, said NHS Tayside will have to start planning for rehabilitation support for people who have had severe cases of coronavirus.
He said: “Thousands of people in Tayside, who are already in the high-risk category, would benefit from this treatment.
“So NHS Tayside will need plans in place as soon as possible for breathing rehabilitation, so that patients who have had coronavirus can start their recovery.”
James Chalmers, respiratory consultant with NHS Tayside, said: “NHS Tayside has a high prevalence of COPD in the community because of a longstanding and highly-organised community infrastructure for respiratory care which proactively screens patients with respiratory symptoms for COPD and other chest conditions.
“Earlier diagnosis means earlier treatment and better outcomes and NHS Tayside is proud that admission rates, lengths of stay and other key outcome indicators for COPD are among the best in the country.
“It is too early to know to what extent COVID-19 infection will lead to an increase in chronic lung disease but we agree this an important issue to address. This is the reason why NHS Tayside and the University of Dundee has initiated what will become a Scotland-wide project to follow-up patients with COVID-19 to identify the effects on lung function and symptoms.
“Dr David Connell, respiratory consultant at Ninewells Hospital in his role as chairman of the British Thoracic Society Speciality Advisory group on respiratory infections is involved in planning a national pathway for follow-up care for covid patients, and follow-up including the appropriate x-rays and tests is already happening in Tayside for early detection and treatment of any complications.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Although our efforts are currently concentrated on saving lives, we are also planning how our NHS can move forward after this crisis has passed. Caring for those who need ongoing help after covid-19 will be an important part of that.
“We have been driving improvement in the diagnosis, care, treatment and support of people with respiratory conditions. We are developing a Respiratory Care Action Plan, which will set out priorities to support the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of respiratory conditions, including COPD. The plan is at consultation stage and we would encourage as many people as possible to respond.
“Access to pulmonary rehabilitation is a key recommendation in national clinical guidelines that we expect NHS boards to follow, and it will form an important part of the plan.
“The Scottish Government recently awarded £330,000 to Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland to grow its hospital and community discharge services for people living with lung conditions, including those affected by coronavirus.”