Health Minister Chris Picton did not provide answers to questions sent by InDaily on Monday about the length of the waiting list for patients wanting to be seen at the Long COVID Assessment Clinic based at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, or how many staff work at the clinic by deadline.
A spokesperson said this morning that the information should be provided by SA Health.
One patient, who did not want to be identified, was referred to the state’s Long COVID clinic based at the Royal Adelaide Hospital by his GP in January this year.
He had been forced to drop work days as he continued to suffer from extreme fatigue, fogginess and breathlessness following a COVID infection in July 2022.
Weeks later the patient contacted the clinic to ask about his appointment and was shocked to receive an email from the Long COVID Team at the Central Adelaide Local Health Network (CALHN) telling him there would be an eight to 10 month wait.
“I couldn’t believe it, it was ruining my life and I needed some kind of answer,” he said.
As COVID cases continue to plague the state with weekly reported cases of 645 last Friday, those suffering Long COVID can receive GP referrals to the specialist clinic and another Post COVID Rehabilitation Clinic based at the Flinders Medical Centre once symptoms continue after 12 weeks.
SA Health confirmed this morning that these clinics are only funded through to July next year, but the media team did not answer questions it received on Monday about the length of the waiting list and staff numbers at the clinic by InDaily’s deadline today.
In December last year, SA Health estimated 35,000 South Australians can expect to contract long COVID and more than 600 patients were at that stage seeking specialist support for the chronic illness.
The email sent to the patient from the RAH Long COVID team said: “You have been placed on the waitlist for an appointment. The waitlist is extensive and is currently eight to 10 months.”
“In the interim, please continue to follow up with your GP and consider any community options that could be accessed sooner.”
CAHLN co-lead Long COVID service and head of clinic, Dr Angela Molga, said “referrals are assessed and triaged on the information provided, so the sickest patients are treated first” at the RAH clinic.
“Most patients who attend the clinic have complex symptoms and significant functional impairment, with symptoms ranging from severe fatigue to brain fog and breathlessness,” she said, adding that those attending the clinic can opt into a research initiative.
Responding after deadline, an SA Health spokesperson said the RAH’s Long COVID Clinic operates two days a week, seeing between 10 to 13 patients and reviewing five to six previous cases and is staffed with nurses, specialists, a registrar and pharmacist.
“Patients referred to the RAH can expect to wait six months. The RAH receives referrals from central, northern, regional areas and also from the Northern Territory,” the spokesperson said.
Picton said long COVID is “still an emerging field of medicine”.
“Like most conditions, the majority of people are cared for through General Practitioners and allied health professionals in the community, with more serious cases needing specialist input,” Picton said.
“SA Health has provided education to doctors regarding the community-based management of the illness. South Australians are encouraged to seek initial treatment for long COVID-19 via their GP.”
The patient who spoke to InDaily claimed he was lucky enough to be included in a Long COVID study being conducted by cardiologist Professor Denis Lau and PhD candidate Marie-Claire Seeley through the University of Adelaide, and has seen a private health system exercise physiologist prior to his appointment at the RAH.
It meant he could receive further treatment that includes medication and advice around diet, exercise and the use of compression wear during the day.
He attended the RAH appointment a week ago and said that he received “good advice”.
When the patient previously queried the long wait list with Health Minister Chris Picton, he received a letter saying advice from CALHN was that most patients attending the clinic were referred by GPs.
The letter from Picton told him that patients wanted a diagnosis for their complaints and needed high-level clinical expertise and medical acumen.
“CALHN apologises that the demand for its Long COVID Clinic is currently high. As well as its own patients, the RAH sees patients from the Northern Adelaide catchment, and other regional areas across South Australia,” it said.
“Most referrals to the RAH Long COVID Clinic are from general practitioners who have conducted medical assessments and are seeking specialist input for their patients.
“These patients tend to be highly complex with functional impairment impacting their return to work, study or social roles.”
The SA Health spokesperson said after deadline that there is an up to eight-week wait at the Post COVID Rehabilitation Clinic based at the Flinders Medical Centre – known as the Post Acute Sequelae Covid Clinic, that provides a multidisciplinary assessment with rehabilitation consultants, a nurse and physiotherapist, with access to psychiatry, occupational therapy and exercise physiology as required.
It operates every Thursday afternoon seeing on average four new patients and reviewing between six and eight.
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