Specialist clinics for treating long Covid should be established in every health board in Scotland to help those suffering with the condition, it has been claimed.
Around 202,000 people reported symptoms of long Covid at the end of July, according to the Office for National Statistics.
A support service for long Covid was launched by Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland (CHSS) in February, 2021.
However, official figures indicate that as of March this year, a total of 1,498 referrals have been made to the service since the launch.
The statistic was published in response to a written parliamentary question lodged by the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, the party’s leader, described the lack of referrals to the service as “pitiful”.
He warned that people are being “left behind”, with care pathways having not been established to help people get support.
“This is the principal government-funded service to help people with this debilitating condition. However, less than one in 100 sufferers have been referred,” he said.
“The Scottish Government has done next to nothing to help direct people into the Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland service, and needs to get its act together.
“The pitiful lack of referrals sharpens the challenges facing long Covid suffers. I know that Chest Heart and Stroke are desperate to help more sufferers, but the Government have not established the care pathways to get people to this vital service. We need automatic referrals.”
As well as specialist Covid clinics in health boards, Cole-Hamilton called for in-home support and nationwide access to physiotherapy and rehab.
“The First Minister is devoting twice as much money to her efforts to break up the UK as she is to helping the 200,000 people suffering long Covid,” he continued.
“A year on from the publication of the strategy and it’s obvious that people are being left behind.
“I want to see specialist long Covid clinics in every health board, in-home support for people in need and country-wide access to physiotherapy and rehab.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson explained that an initial £3m is being invested in its long Covid Support Fund.
“All NHS Scotland boards are providing assessment and support for people with long Covid, delivered across the full range of NHS services – backed by our substantial 2022-23 £18bn investment in health,” they said.
“We are investing an initial £3m from our long Covid Support Fund to provide NHS boards and partners with additional resource to deliver the best local models of care for assessment, diagnostic tests, and support for the treatment or management of symptoms.
“Initiatives include the introduction of single local points for referral to provide GPs with improved access to assessment and co-ordinated multi-disciplinary rehabilitation support.”
They continued: “We are supporting Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland (CHSS) to deliver a pilot long Covid Support Service in NHS Lothian, which also helps reduce some of the pressure on NHS services.
“We look forward to seeing the full evaluation of the pilot and sharing the learning. Not everyone living with long COVID will need the support of the CHSS helpline.
“Many are self-managing their symptoms with the help of clinical advice they have received.
“This is only one part of our total response which also includes a dedicated platform on NHS Inform to provide digital support to those living with long Covid, which has reached over 2.5 million users since launch in October 2021.”