Nicola Sturgeon has been challenged to do more to help sufferers of long Covid as it was revealed that almost 80,000 Scots may be living with the condition.
New figures from the Office for National Statistics showed 79,000 patients had reported suffering from the condition after contracting Covid-19.
Of those, 61,000 are said to have been suffering from symptoms – which can include extreme tiredness, chest pains and shortness of breath as well as depression, diarrhoea and feeling sick – for more than 12 weeks, while 31,000 have been living with such problems for a year or more.
While the Scottish Government recently published a long Covid plan, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton insisted sufferers with the condition would receive better treatment in England.
He challenged Ms Sturgeon on the issue at First Minister’s Questions, as he accused Health Secretary Humza Yousaf of refusing to meet campaigners from Long Covid Scotland.
Describing the condition as being possibly “the biggest mass disabling event since the end of the First World War”, the Lib Dem demanded action.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “The much-delayed long Covid plan published last week should have been transformative, but I have spoken today with a constituent who suffers from long Covid. He was, in his words, devastated to discover nothing has changed.
“I have warned before that people with the condition are better off moving to England where there are well established clinics and a care pathway, and nothing in this document will match that.
“Long Covid Scotland have been trying to meet the Health Secretary but he has refused them at every turn. If he hasn’t met them how can he possibly know what they need?”
The First Minister responded: “I believe the Health Secretary has met with long Covid patients and I am sure he would be more than willing to meet with others.
“This is a serious issue and one that we are going to be living with the impact of for some time.”
While she said she was “not an expert” on arrangements for long Covid care in England, she added that she suspected “they don’t always live up to how they are talked about here in some of the detail”.
Meanwhile she stressed that the Scottish Government’s long Covid plan contained 16 separate commitments, which were backed with up to £10 million of funding.
She also said that there was “nothing to stop health boards establishing specialist provision right now” if they wanted to.
But the First Minister said: “What we also want to do is make sure through all of the more general NHS provision clinicians are capable of addressing the impacts of long Covid as they are prevented.
“This is an issue that is serious now and it is going to continue to be an obligation on the part of Government, which is why the commitments in that paper are so important.”