The must-read stories and debate in health policy and leadership.

Earlier this month, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons’ health committee: “The NHS set up long covid clinics and announced them in July…”

This was news to HSJ, as we couldn’t remember any announcement, nor heard anyone talking about clinics for long covid (which refers to the long-lasting fatigue and other issues experienced by some covid patients).

When asked details, the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England declined to answer basic questions such as the number of clinics set up to date, where they were located, or how they were funded.

Very mysterious.

Our best guess is Mr Hancock was referring to an announcement in July about a “Seacole” rehab centre in Surrey, when there was a suggestion these would be rolled out to more areas.

However, despite some areas being asked to prepare plans for their own Seacole units, they were later told there was no funding available for them.

HSJ understands the other part of the July announcement — a digital resource called “Yourcovidrecovery” — is not yet able to connect users to a therapist.

Two charities and support groups — Patient Safety Learning and the Long Covid Support Group — told HSJ they were not aware of any dedicated long covid clinics for community patients; and an enquiry from PSL to NHS England had not been answered either.

The only clinic HSJ has been able to identify is at University College London Foundation Trust.

The number of people affected by long covid is unclear due to a lack of research but there are suggestions it could be half a million or more. Symptoms can include fatigue, sleeplessness, night-time hypoxia, “brain fog” and cardiac problems. It appears to affect more people who were not hospitalised with coronavirus than those who were.

When two become one

It has taken a long time, but finally it appears that the time is ripe for a merger of Cornwall’s acute and community/mental health organisations.

A resurgent Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, which was recently freed from the special measures regime, is set to come together with Cornwall Partnership FT under plans to run services in a more integrated fashion.

CPFT chief executive Phil Confue told HSJ that covid-19 had accelerated the need for the trusts to integrate, and he is not worried the work will distract from managing the fall-out of the pandemic.

In fact, given the integrated care agenda being pushed strongly across the NHS, Mr Confue believes more mental health organisations will join acute and community bodies in future.

Mr Confue, whose career in the south west NHS’ mental health service stretches back to a time when the Spice Girls were still top of the charts, said organisational barriers hinder more than help patients.

He also questioned how segregating mental health services helps deal with the health inequalities that affect this group of people.

Health chiefs in Cornwall hope the merger will take around two years, at which point – after what will amount to almost a decade since it was first suggested  – the two trusts become one.