'I want my life back': The desperation of 'long Covid' sufferers out of work since March

There are growing calls for more specialist support for those living with the long-term effects of coronavirus in Wales.

Thousands of people are thought to be living with 'long Covid', when symptoms of the virus continue for weeks or months beyond the initial illness.

More than 60 clinics have been set up across England for people with the condition, which can result in brain fog, anxiety, depression, breathlessness, fatigue and other debilitating symptoms.

The sites provide access to specialist doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists offering physical and psychological assessments and refer patients to the right treatment and rehabilitation services.

More than 500 people have joined a support group for people living with long Covid in Wales, which is campaigning for similar Welsh clinics.

One of its members is Sarah Sutton, a mum-of-four from Swansea who has been suffering with the long-term effects of coronavirus since March.

Sarah Sutton has been suffering with the long-term effects of coronavirus since March. Credit: ITV Wales

The 42-year-old, who had recently qualified in her dream job as a midwife, has been out of work ever since developing symptoms of the virus.

She had been working as a community midwife for four months, and explained: "I was the happiest I'd ever been, I was making plans to stay there in that team, and then I got ill and I haven't worked since."

Sarah has developed extreme fatigue, acute asthma and brain fog - symptoms that have forced her to give up driving.

"I am exhausted all the time, I'm rarely out of bed before lunch time.

"Even a sick review meeting with work or something leaves me needing a two hour sleep. I don't do the school run, there are days and days I don't go out of the house.

"It's changed everything."

Sarah, who used to be fit and active, now relies on a cane and can only walk very short distances. Credit: ITV Wales

Sarah's fiancée, Matthew Millichap, spent sleepless nights watching over her when she was most ill just to make sure she was still breathing.

"A couple of times I took her into A&E and wasn't allowed to go in with her, and there were a couple of times I didn't think I'd be bringing her home," he said.

"She was ill. It was horrible."

He explained the impact the long-term effects of the virus have had on Sarah.

"Sarah, when I met her and up until March, was outgoing, fit, we'd walk the dogs, go to the beach, all sorts of things.

"Since March, absolutely everything has changed."

The healthcare watchdog NICE defines long Covid as lasting for more than 12 weeks, although others consider symptoms that last more than eight weeks to be long Covid.

Studies suggest one in 50 coronavirus patients will still be ill after three months.

Sarah Wakefield founded the online support group for long Covid sufferers in Wales. Credit: ITV Wales

Sarah Wakefield, a sports instructor from Bridgend, founded the online support group for long Covid sufferers in Wales after fearing she was the only one experiencing it.

The 46-year-old used to spend hours cycling and exercising every day as part of her job, but now even a flight of stairs is a struggle.

"I would spend hours every day up the Welsh hills working, and then of course my hobby was also mountain biking so I'd do the same on the weekends as well.

"I was completely booked up through the summer holidays, turning down work, it was going to be my best year, and I couldn't do it."

Her symptoms include arthritis, hearing loss and shortness of breath, which she feels have resulted in lost time with her children.

"They've got a little picture in their bedroom of me and the pair of them up some mountain in the snow, and they just showed it to me and said 'Mummy, when are we going to be able to do this again?' and I just don't know.

"It's so hard on them."

A normal working day for Sarah used to involve her riding a mountain bike up and down the Afan Valley for up to five hours. Credit: Sarah Wakefield

More than nine months after first becoming unwell with coronavirus symptoms, she is beginning to recover, but has stressed the need for greater support.

"We need multi-disciplinary clinics where we can be diagnosed, we need cardiologists, neurologists, people that are there to deal with all these massively wide ranging symptoms.

"I haven't not worked for nine months just for a little bit of sympathy. I want my business back, I want my life back."

The Welsh Government said it is taking a personalised approach to support for those who need it due to the wide range of impacts.

A spokesperson added: "We want people with post-Covid syndrome to be able to access the majority of the services they need – be that assessment, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation support – as close to home as possible or via remote services, only having to travel for more specialised services, which have to be provided in an acute hospital setting.

"Each health board is responsible for planning and organising the response for their area taking into account local needs and circumstances."