A charity has seen a doubling in the number of people seeking help for long Covid as it warned that NHS services are failing to meet demand.
Asthma and Lung UK said around half a million people have visited its long Covid advice web pages or called its helpline for support in the last six months.
The number of people viewing the web pages nearly doubled from September to March, as cases of Omicron rose across the UK, it said.
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that an estimated 1.8 million people in UK households (2.8% of the population) were experiencing long Covid as of April 3 – the most recent data available.
In these self-reported cases, 382,000 (21%) first had (or suspected they had) Covid less than 12 weeks previously, 1.3 million people (73%) at least 12 weeks previously, 791,000 (44%) at least one year previously and 235,000 (13%) at least two years before.
Fatigue is the most common symptom reported (51% of those with long Covid), followed by shortness of breath (33%), loss of sense of smell (26%) and difficulty concentrating (23%).
Some 1.2 million people (67% of those with long Covid) say symptoms stop them doing some or all of their normal activities.
According to Asthma and Lung UK, many callers to its helpline are at crisis point, with some asking for advice on buying oxygen to manage their long Covid breathlessness. This can be dangerous if it is not issued on prescription.
The helpline has also taken calls from people wanting information on private healthcare providers because they are struggling to get help from the NHS.
The latest data from NHS long Covid clinics in England shows 30% of people waited more than 15 weeks for an initial appointment as of March/April.
Data on the overall number of people still waiting for first appointments is not published by the NHS.
Asthma and Lung UK said many more thousands of people could be waiting to access care.
Sarah Woolnough, its chief executive, said: “As we near the grim milestone of two million people living with long Covid, there is still a dismal lack of treatments for this disabling condition, which is leaving people fighting for breath and devastating every aspect of their life, health, work and relationships.
“Coupled with a lack of support and long wait times for specialist care, hundreds of thousands of people are turning to charities like Asthma and Lung UK, desperate for vital advice and support.
“With cases only rising, the problem is not going to go away.
“The Government must invest in more research into possible treatments and staffing for long Covid clinics to help people with this new and unpredictable condition to get their lives back on track.”
A NHS spokeswoman said: “Since the pandemic began, the NHS has invested over £220 million and opened 90 specialist clinics and 14 hubs for children and young people to help people with long Covid, so we urge anyone who is concerned about long-lasting symptoms after having coronavirus to get in touch with their GP practice or visit the NHS ‘Your Covid Recovery’ website for further advice on the support available.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Long Covid is a new challenge for healthcare systems all over the world and the UK is leading the way on research, treatment, care and guidance.
“We are backing our world-leading scientists with over £50 million to better understand the long-term debilitating effects of Covid so we can ensure the right help and the right treatments are available.”