Research suggests one in three could be harmed for life, with long-term damage to their lungs, as well as chronic fatigue and psychological disturbances, while NHS guidance warns that around 30 per cent of patients who recover from Covid-19 may be left with damaged and scarred lung tissue, if it follows patterns of similar diseases.
The Phosp-Covid study will track participants’ health through clinic and GP visits and questionnaires and will ask some to provide blood and urine samples or undergo scans.
They hope to identify biological molecules or genetic differences that could explain why some experience long-term effects and others do not.
Prof Brightling said researchers would also use the data gathered during the Recovery trial, led by the University of Oxford, which discovered that dexamethasone lowered the risk of death for people on ventilators by 35 per cent.
He said: “It might well be that the dexamethasone also has effects on long term conditions that we find after patients have been discharged.
“Because it’s likely that it affects the virus’s anti inflammatory mechanism, it might well alter the trajectory of some conditions related to inflammation, so I’d actually be quite surprised if there wasn’t some long term benefit from dexamethasone.”
Azithromycin, an antibiotic and anti inflammatory usually given to patients with chronic lung disease, is also being tested and Prof Brightling said it was possible they might discover it altered the risk to longer term damage to the lungs.
Prof Brightling and his team was aware of the urgency of its work. They hope to be in a position to report some findings in the autumn, potentially kickstarting new trials and influencing treatment for patients who fall ill this winter.
“The biggest success of this study would be for me to be able to say at the end of the year that everybody has no long term problems, that would be great,” he said.
“But if we unfortunately find there are a number of long term problems then we have got ethical permission to follow people up for 25 years. So we are preparing for very long term follow up if necessary.”
The study will formally start within the next fortnight, with researchers layering their research onto existing clinical follow up data.
“The clinical services become part of the research,” Prof Brightling added.
“That’s how you can make something on this scale a success. There is no UK research funding that would fund anything on this scale if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s so closely embedded into the NHS service.”