LONG-Covid – a potentially debilitating condition which has left some Islanders so ill they have been forced to give up their careers – should be classed as a long-term disability in serious cases, according to a leading clinician.
More than 300 people have sought help from Jersey’s long-Covid clinic, which was launched in February 2022 to support people suffering lingering symptoms of the disease, including fatigue and so-called ‘brain fog’, months after recovering from their initial illness.
Now Dr Matt Doyle, who runs the clinic, said that in some cases the condition should be classified as a long-term disability.
‘One of the challenges with long-Covid is that it is such a varied condition. It can affect people in so many different ways,’ he said.
‘We have certainly seen people who have had to give up their careers as a result of what was initially a relatively mild Covid infection. In some cases, it should be identified as a long-term disability.’
The prevailing theory behind the disease is viral persistence: the virus gets into the body and hides, meaning the immune system is unable to find and eradicate it, causing the symptoms to linger.
These include fatigue, breathlessness, changes in bowel movements, joint pains, headaches, cognitive impairment, and alterations to taste and smell.
Dr Doyle said: ‘We’ve been able to attribute more and more to post-viral symptoms as time goes on and more research is done. Our understanding of what is going on in the body with long-Covid is expanding all the time, so we now have clearer answers as to why these things happen.’
He added: ‘It is a very wide-ranging condition that is able to affect most areas of the body.’
While long-Covid has been seen among most age groups, those most affected by the condition are 35 to 60-year-olds. ‘It is unfortunately coinciding with our working population, so there is that knock-on effect on the health of our economy,’ he said.
Dr Doyle added that choosing the right pathway of treatment could be difficult, and said the biggest problem was that none of the drugs he used were licensed to treat long-Covid.
‘If we use these drugs for long-Covid, we are using them off-licence,’ he said.
Using drugs to respond to conditions for which they were not originally designed means they are sometimes not effective. There is also no specific long-Covid drug currently in development.
Some patients recover naturally over time but when their symptoms are particularly severe, and have an impact on a person’s quality of life, it could qualify as a disability, said Dr Doyle.
The definition of ‘disability’, according to Jersey’s Discrimination Law, is broader than in the UK. Someone is defined as ‘disabled’ if they have ‘long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments’ which can adversely affect their ability to engage or participate in any activity in respect of which an act of discrimination is prohibited under the law.
In Jersey, ‘long-term’ means six months or more, as opposed to the UK’s 12 months minimum.
A report following a study by local law firm BCR Law LLP has stated ‘it is highly likely that long-Covid, in certain circumstances, is capable of meeting the statutory definition of “disability”’.
While Dr Doyle said the number of patients with long-Covid was ‘substantially decreasing’, from 20 to 30 new referrals a week down to five, there are still those who will continue to live with the condition for some time.