Summary

  • Most people who get COVID-19 recover fully, but some may go on to develop longer term symptoms or “long COVID”. There is currently no additional COVID funding for investigation and treatment of long COVID. It will be funded in the same way as other medical conditions and emergencies.
  • Once the acute phase of the COVID-19 infection is over, any longer-term symptoms which continue or develop beyond six weeks from diagnosis should be managed in the same way as other long-term conditions.
  • Normal co-payments for general practice appointments will apply, as well as part charges for emergency ambulance callouts, and prescription co-payments at community pharmacies.. Specialist level treatment will be funded by the regional divisions of Te Whatu Ora, or self-funded if accessed privately.
  • The Ministry is continuing develop its approach to long COVID rehabilitation guidance and service delivery and will share this with the sector as information and evidence comes to hand.

Background and context

Long COVID is one of the names given to the symptoms experienced by people after a COVID-19 infection. Globally, the condition is also known as post-COVID syndrome, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID syndrome, chronic COVID, or post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (see Long COVID on the National Institute for Health Innovation website).

Most people who get COVID-19 recover fully, but some may go on to develop longer term symptoms from the virus. There is little definitive evidence quantifying long COVID in New Zealand but based on data from the Delta variant of COVID-19, the Ministry of Health estimates 20 percent of people who have tested positive for COVID‑19 experience a range of health symptoms more than five weeks after their initial diagnosis, and 10 percent experience at least one enduring symptom three months later. Data is not yet available to estimate rates of long COVID following an Omicron infection.

Long COVID funding arrangements

COVID-19 Care in the Community funding is intended to fund COVID-19 related care for those in the acute stage of their infection while they are isolating at home.  All COVID-19-related care for those patients in the acute stage of their infection is currently fully funded by the Crown,This is to minimise barriers for accessing testing and treatment, to identify as many cases as possible, and to support isolation, thereby reducing the risk to the wider community.

Funding is already available to Primary Care to cover a single post COVID-19 review.

Based on current evidence, it is clinically appropriate to treat any presentations beyond that time as outside of the acute infection for which the current funding is provided.

Once the acute phase of the COVID-19 infection is resolved, any longer-term presentations beyond the six-week check should be managed in the same way as other long-term conditions.

For patients reporting persistent symptoms beyond four weeks, the funded six-week review should be utilised to plan any ongoing care that may be clinically indicated. Normal co-payments for general practice appointments will apply, as well as part charges for emergency ambulance callouts, and and prescription co-payments at community pharmacies.. Specialist level treatment will be funded by the regional divisions of Te Whatu Ora, or self-funded if accessed privately.

Rehabilitation guidance and service delivery

The Ministry is continuing develop its approach to long COVID rehabilitation guidance and service delivery and will share this with the sector as information and evidence comes to hand.

The Ministry is:

  • monitoring health districts that have/are establishing specific services for long COVID to help develop a change package for others who may want to do the same
  • maintaining a currency of emergent evidence to inform clinical pathways for the identification and management of long COVID
  • establishing an Expert Advisory Group including people with lived experience to guide and give input
  • identifying research gaps that are particular to Aotearoa New Zealand and how these might be addressed.