A rehabilitation specialist who helping those suffering from long Covid in Plymouth has spelled out how debilitating the condition can be.
George Street is a physiotherapist who is delivering a new pioneering programme for Nuffield Health, launched after a survey suggested one in ten people who contracted the virus had developed long Covid.
Shortness of breath, chronic fatigue and even anxiety are some of the symptoms being experienced by some recovering from Covid-19.
While the prevalence of the condition is yet to be fully realised, a survey from Nuffield Health themselves suggested it could potentially be hitting more than three million people across the country.
George, who is nine weeks into the first 12-week programme being delivered in the city, said long Covid was not just affecting older people.
“It can be for all ages who have suffered with long Covid,” he said. “I’ve read recently that there are more than one million people suffering with it, and the demographic is huge, covering all ages.”
He continued: “I haven’t experienced Covid myself, touch wood, so I wouldn’t know how to compare it, but from the conversations that I had had with people on the programme, it’s taking the soul out of their lives.
“Some people cannot even do their basic activities and chores, like washing.
“It really damages their confidence – so we also want to build up their emotional confidence.”
He said activities such as washing, pottering around the garden or even ascending a flight of stairs can become a challenge due to the shortness of breath which is a key symptom of long Covid.
George added: “We even class hoovering as quite an intense exercise as for some people it can be quite vigorous and use various muscle groups.”
The free scheme is also now being delivered at sister Nuffield site Devonshire Health and Leisure, and that it has been a steep learning curve so far.
George said: “The one thing to know about this is that if you or I were going to the gym, as we want to improve our fitness, we would probably do a little bit more each time. But with long Covid it’s not like this, as if we do too much you can set yourself back by weeks.
“We have to be very gentle with the advice we give out as people can so easily slip backwards in their recovery.”
The programme offers tailored physical and mental health advice for each participant, so only 13 people are allocated to each group.
George said the fact that it is free, and open to self-referrals through the Nuffield website as well as referrals from GPs and other clinicians, will mean that waiting lists quickly build up.
While the long-term recovery process is yet to be established, the feedback so far suggests some improvement is possible.
George added: “We have been going through this pandemic for a year and a half now, so this is still all very new to us, so we don’t know what the long-term effect is going to be like.
“But I have had comments from one or two of the participants saying that they are starting to feel a bit better, which is hugely encouraging for us.”
The programme has certain exclusions, such as those suffering with heart conditions or diabetes, but George said it is open to all ages and backgrounds – as long Covid can affect even those who considered themselves fit and healthy.
He said: “You are going to get some people who have been fit and healthy, and used to going out on runs, and now can’t do anything.
“Everyone has a completely different immune response so that even if you think you are fit and healthy, you might find you are not able to fight off a certain strain of Covid.”
The 27-year-old, who graduated from Marjons in 2016 and worked for Nuffield Health for five years, said it was a learning curve for him personally.
“For me, before Covid started I had not much knowledge at all, but going through the training and also listening to the participants and what they have had to go through, you learn so much.
“It is great really, because each time I go into a new group and have more knowledge about how to manage fatigue, breathlessness and how to deal with that, and lay that out more fluently.”
More about the Nuffield Health programme
A Plymouth hospital has launched a pioneering free rehabilitation programme for sufferers of long Covid.
Nuffield Health is offering a 12-week specialist recovery programme in partnership with the NHS. The programme, the first of its kind, has been designed to help the ever-growing number of people who are finding it difficult to recover from the long-term effects of Covid-19.
One in ten people who are infected with Covid-19 will develop some form of long Covid, with symptoms including breathlessness, anxiety and chronic fatigue. Patients are currently discharged from hospital with no formal recovery plan, which can result in a longer recovery process and prolonged side effects.
Findings from the Nuffield Health Healthier Nation Index, a comprehensive survey of just over 8,000 Britons, found that 7% – representing an estimated 3.65 million people – said they have struggled to exercise in the last 12 months due to long Covid.
The new programme, which is available at Nuffield Health’s Fitness and Wellbeing centres in the Barbican Leisure Park and the Devonshire Health Club in Plymouth, blends together physical therapy and mental health support. Participants receive personalised support from a rehabilitation specialist who has undergone comprehensive clinical training and is able to offer emotional, as well as physical support.
Early indications from the pilot programme show that it has positive benefits for reducing breathlessness, increasing functional capacity, reducing anxiety and improving physical fitness.
On the programme, participants work with their dedicated rehabilitation specialist to design an individual plan. The first six weeks are delivered virtually and include at-home exercises, nutrition guidance and emotional wellbeing advice covering areas such as managing sleep, fatigue and anxiety. The next six weeks are delivered in person at Nuffield Health’s fitness and wellbeing centres in Plymouth. Participants also receive on-demand work-outs, weekly support calls and access to a community of participants where they can share their experiences.
The programme, having initially been run as a pilot at four locations, has launched across Nuffield Health fitness and wellbeing centres and will be expanded to over 40 locations by May. This is part of a national roll-out which will ensure that Nuffield Health can help more people with their recovery and help to build a healthier nation.
Dr Davina Deniszczyc, Medical Director at Nuffield Health, said: “As the UK’s largest healthcare charity, our purpose is to build a healthier nation and we’re proud to be partnering with the NHS to offer patients this free programme in Plymouth to help with their Covid-19 recovery.
“When Covid-19 hit, we quickly identified there was an un-met need for a growing number of patients who had been medically discharged but who still needed physical and emotional support. As the nation continues to recover, it is crucial that we remember that many patients are still struggling with symptoms and that’s why we’re doing everything we can to rollout our specialist recovery programme across the UK, so more people can access our services.”
Rehabilitation specialists George Street and Brendon Lightfoot, at the Nuffield Health Fitness and Wellbeing centres in Plymouth, said: “We know that many people living in Plymouth have seen their quality of life seriously impacted by debilitating and lingering Covid-19 symptoms. We are delighted to launch this programme and I would encourage everyone who feels like they are suffering in silence to get in touch.”