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Long Covid research ‘hampered’ by bureaucracy, inquiry told

Red tape and unclear standards hold back Australia’s efforts to help sufferers, academics warn

Administrative holdups and lack of common standards are hampering research into long Covid in Australia, a national inquiry has been told.

Concerns over research into the condition, where sufferers remain sick months after an infection with Covid-19, were voiced by universities, research institutes and state authorities. The Victorian Department of Health told the federal parliament’s standing committee on health, aged care and sport that it wants to see less duplication of research across the country.

“A national long Covid response plan is required to ensure best-practice care is consistently provided across the continuum of prevention, early intervention, treatment, recovery support and research,” the department’s submission to the long Covid inquiry said.

In a written submission, Andreas Suhrbier from the QIMR Berghofer medical research institute, said that “research into Covid and long Covid has been severely impeded by a series of slow and cumbersome regulatory issues”. These included the complexity of obtaining import permits for vaccines.

Protracted delays

The QIMR Berghofer is one of several research institutes in Australia with permission to work directly with the virus using specialised mouse models. But Suhrbier told the inquiry that the centre could not keep pace with the pandemic, as its ability to work with international partners was badly affected by red tape and time-consuming application systems.

“The protracted delays often render the work out of date and of minimal public health value,” he said.

The Victorian submission warned that a lack of a consistent definition of the long Covid syndrome “hampered surveillance, monitoring, data collection, reporting and research activities”.

“Data is essential to understand the impact of long Covid on patients, service demand, equity of access and areas of unmet need,” the department said. “Research and jurisdictional data analyses should use consistent definitions and counting rules to provide the most benefit for planning and developing policy.”

Limited metrics

The Victorian health department called for more research spending on the subject, to achieve a better understanding of long Covid’s systemic health impacts on workers and on the healthcare system. The department also called for a “nationally coordinated approach” to data gathering and reporting, which, it said, would require standardised metrics.

One of the inquiry’s tasks is to assess research into long Covid, and the Victorian submission said there was “limited” Australian research. This was despite the fact that Victorian hospitals had reported increasing pressure across a range of services due to long Covid, the department said.

A submission from the Queensland health state authority also highlighted issues with standards and data gaps. It said that Queensland was carrying out several studies to “ascertain demand” for services and treatment around long Covid, but lacked good metrics to organise access.

At public hearings in October, leading researchers and practitioners had told the inquiry that the lack of research and data was affecting their ability to help patients.

A version of this article appeared in Research Europe