Clinic business

Anger over the closure of the long-running COVID clinic at Mater Hospital

The closure of Mater Hospital’s long-running COVID clinic next month has raised “serious questions” about the government’s COVID response, opposition TDs said on Thursday.

The Mater clinic is due to close at the end of December due to lack of funding.

Róisín Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats and health spokesperson, told the Dáil: “The hospital management was forced to take this decision because the government deprived its establishment of funding.”

The closure of Mater Hospital’s long-running COVID clinic next month has raised “serious questions” about the government’s COVID response, opposition TDs said on Thursday. Photo: Dirk Hudson/Shutterstock

“In July, the clinic submitted a business case to receive government support, but the Minister of Health failed to engage with clinicians.”

She added: ‘It is difficult to understand why the minister has run out the clock on this vital service.

Ms Shortall said that over the past two years the clinic has seen 1,500 patients and published studies on the long COVID which “have revealed high levels of neurological complications and mental health problems”.

The Mater clinic is due to close at the end of December due to lack of funding. Photo: Noel Bennett/Shutterstock

“Why did the minister sit down and allow the oldest COVID clinic to close, especially one with expertise in the neurological impacts of the disease?

“Alongside a lengthy COVID plan that only funds one neurologist for the entire country, this latest development raises serious questions about the government’s response,” she said.

On Thursday, a motion passed in the Dáil calling for urgent action on dealing with long COVID in light of the shutdown. The motion was put forward by the regional group of TDs and received full support throughout the Dáil.

Moving the motion on Thursday, independent TD Seán Canney said: ‘Long COVID is an umbrella name given to a wide range of some 200 post-COVID symptoms which can include conditions such as chronic fatigue and brain fog which occur at least three months after the initial infection and for significant periods of time, and in some cases for more than two years.

On Thursday, a motion passed in the Dáil calling for urgent action on dealing with long COVID in light of the shutdown. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

“The regional group believes that unless we address this long Covid challenge comprehensively and in tandem with measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19, we will only sleepwalk our health service into a crisis of chronic illness,” he said.

Labor TD Duncan Smith said: “As we head into the end of 2022 and into 2023, people who have long suffered from Covid feel increasingly forgotten by our health service and our political class. That is why it is important that we discuss this issue.

In response, junior health minister Frank Feighan said: “Some €2.2 million has been allocated for 2022 to set up a support service for people with long-term COVID. The 2023 budget will facilitate an overall investment of an additional €6.6 million next year for the further development of long COVID services to ensure the establishment of a comprehensive national service.

A recent study by UCC researchers found that nearly 90% of those affected by long COVID did not return to full health, long after the initial infection.

A recent study by UCC researchers found that nearly 90% of those affected by long COVID did not return to full health, long after the initial infection. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The study involved 988 participants and showed that more than two out of three continue to experience fatigue, post-exercise malaise, palpitations, chest pain, upset stomach/nausea, memory problems, muscle or joint pain.

The median number of reported long COVID symptoms was eight for each person, underscoring the significant burden of this disease. The reported median time since initial COVID-19 infection was 12 months.

In a statement, Mater Hospital said, “Mater Hospital has not been selected as one of the designated sites to receive funding for a long COVID clinic.

“Mater Hospital is due to close its long COVID clinic in December and will ensure continuity of care for patients by referring them to national long COVID treatment facilities.

“The Mater is willing to continue running a long-term COVID clinic at the hospital after reconsidering HSE plans for funding long-term COVID care.”