More than 400 people were referred to Northern Ireland’s specialist long Covid clinics in the first month since their launch, it has emerged.
Long Covid is an umbrella term for a range of symptoms including fatigue, breathlessness, muscle pains and brain fog.
A total of 439 people were referred to the service in the first month, the Department of Health (DoH) said.
It said a further 103 people were referred to pulmonary rehab clinics during the same period.
It has also been confirmed that the long Covid centres will be open to children aged 16 and over for the first time, while those under 16 are to be referred to their health trust’s paediatric service.
Sixteen-year-old Rosie, from Dundonald, was hoping to be referred to a clinic but was initially told she was too young.
She is still suffering from a range of debilitating symptoms four months after contracting the virus in September.
The AS-level student missed most of the last school term and the illness is now affecting her mental health.
“Mornings are the hardest so getting up out of bed, I have to take it really slowly,” she said.
“If I get up too quickly I get really dizzy and I’ve fainted a few times because of it.
“At meal times I’m not hungry because I can’t taste things. I don’t really want to eat because textures of certain foods aren’t nice.”
Rosie used to compete in Irish dancing and achieved A grades in her GCSE English exams. Now she has to rest after going up the stairs and struggles to read and write.
Her dad Colin said: “I used to love watching Rosie dance. A couple of years ago we watched her dance on the stage in Disneyland. Now we sit on the sofa and hold her as she cries.
“I watch her struggle every day to get out bed some days, or to be tired or frustrated because she can’t do what she wants to do.”
Before Christmas, Rosie wrote to the education and health ministers, as well as the respective Stormont committees, calling for more to be done to protect children and young people from long Covid.
The department confirmed the new long Covid clinics are not designed for people under the age of 16.
A Department of Health spokesperson said it “will continue to study the emerging evidence in relation to long Covid in children and to make sure we have the right services in place for assessment and treatment”.
“These clinics allow people to have a comprehensive assessment of their condition and will help them access the services and expert advice they need to support them in their recovery.
“They refer patients on to other services where appropriate, and provide patients with advice on how to manage their condition to aid recovery,” the spokesperson added.
In the UK, long Covid is broadly defined as a condition that develops during or after the initial Covid-19 infection; continues for more than 12 weeks; and its symptoms cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.
More than 200 symptoms have been linked to the illness but some of the main symptoms are extreme fatigue, breathlessness, brain fog (neurological and memory loss), heart problems and severe headaches.