Long Covid can have a worse effect on patients’ quality of life than some types of cancer, according to a study funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

The study, carried out by researchers at UCL and University of Exeter, examined the impact of long Covid on more than 3,750 patients and found fatigue scores were worse or similar to those with cancer-related anaemia or severe kidney disease.

Long Covid patients’ health-related quality of life scores were also lower than those with advanced cancers, and the impact of the condition on daily activities was found to be worse than that of stroke patients and comparable to those with Parkinson’s disease.

‘Our results have found that long Covid can have a devastating effect on the lives of patients – with fatigue having the biggest impact on everything from social activities to work, chores and maintaining close relationships,’ said Dr Henry Goodfellow, study co-lead from UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health.

All the patients from the study had been referred to an NHS long Covid clinic and used a digital app as part of their treatment plan. Patients were asked to complete questionnaires on how long Covid was affecting them in daily life, with symptoms including fatigue, depression, anxiety, breathlessness and ‘brain fog’.

Over 90% of long Covid patients using the app were of working age (18-65). More than half (51%) said they had been unable to work for at least one day in the previous month, and 20% were unable to work at all. Women made up 71% of participants.

The Office for National Statistics reported around 1.4 million people in the UK had symptoms of long Covid as of July 2022. In order to be referred to a long Covid clinic, a patient must have had symptoms for at least 12 weeks after an acute infection.

‘We hope that a greater understanding of the symptoms and impact of long Covid in these patients will help the NHS and policymakers to target limited resources by adapting existing services and designing new ones to better meet the needs of patients with long Covid,’ Dr Goodfellow added.