We’ve known about long Covid since ‘long haulers’ started appearing during the first lockdown. I led the first Holyrood debate last year. But the Scottish Government has only just belatedly held a full-scale parliamentary debate on this devastating condition. It’s shameful that the SNP/Green coalition made sufferers wait this long, depriving them of recognition in our Parliament’s proceedings.
Long Covid affects more than150,000 Scots and has been characterised as possibly the biggest mass-disabling event since the First World War. But the SNP/Green government’s progress on this has been glacial.
Long Covid is insidious, debilitating and it is widespread. It manifests in any combination of literally hundreds of symptoms. ‘Air hunger’, diarrhoea, muscle spasms, brain fog, chronic fatigue. It ruins livelihoods and hobbles lives.
Those people were finally given voice by opposition MSPs like myself, who have dragged the government to this point.
We spoke for sufferers like Anna Goss who at just nine has had her education and childhood ruined by long Covid. When asked by her mum Helen, a founder of Long Covid Kids, to describe her condition to the first meeting of the cross-party group on long Covid, Anna did so in just three words: “I HATE IT.”
I am haunted by those words. You can hear the anger and the frustration of a childhood and an education marred by something that no adult around Anna can fully explain to her. She told the BBC that she only ever has about five per cent of the energy she used to and that her schooling is restricted to just a few minutes of work with her mum on the sofa each day.
The Scottish Government’s response to her plight, and thousands more, has been woeful.
In September last year, and only after considerable pressure, the Health Secretary announced £10 million for long Covid support. But sufferers didn’t see a penny of that for months on end. Only now has it started to slowly leave the Scottish Government’s bank account, and that still only amounts to just £22 per patient per year.
Despite the self-congratulatory tone of the government's remarks, Anna and the 150,000 people like her would be better off moving to England, where there are long Covid clinics, care pathways and dedicated research trials.
It was frankly astonishing to see SNP ministers and backbenchers try to excuse their own inadequacy by suggesting that long Covid clinics would actually get in the way of support.
This view was roundly debunked by Dr Kevin Deans, an expert on long Covid, who told the BBC on Saturday that the case for such clinics was undeniable.
During the debate, SNP and Green MSPs read out fact-filled speeches which left you thinking the Wikipedia entry on long Covid had been well visited that afternoon.
I’m sure they think they understand the pathology of this awful condition, but they certainly don’t understand its human cost, otherwise they wouldn’t keep denying Anna the support she deserves.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western