People in Oxfordshire who are experiencing long-term symptoms after getting COVID-19 are benefitting from an integrated service combining the expertise of Oxford’s two NHS trusts.
The Long COVID service is run jointly by Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust. Specialists from the two trusts are able to triage each patient referred to them by GPs and then refer them to the most appropriate service, whether that is hospital- or community-based support.
The clinic, based at the Churchill Hospital, began in January 2021 with funding from NHS England, although clinicians from both Trusts had been working together and referring patients with Long COVID symptoms for some months before that.
The team includes doctors, nurses, psychologists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists from the two trusts to offer both physical and psychological assessments of patients, who are triaged and referred to the right treatment and rehabilitation services.
A recent survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that more than a million people in the UK had ongoing symptoms after contracting the disease at least three months beforehand. These longer-term symptoms can include depression, breathlessness, fatigue, chest tightness, joint pain, anxiety, problems with memory and concentration, insomnia, dizziness, headaches and nausea.
One patient to benefit from the service is Dave Hockaday, a 48-year-old Oxfam team manager from Oxford, who is still experiencing Long COVID symptoms after contracting the virus last year.
Dave suffers from a tight chest, tinnitus, fatigue and a general malaise. He has also experienced digestive issues and bouts of insomnia, which have left him drained.
He explains: “I have never in my life had sleep issues until recently. The insomnia was awful. First it was hard to get to sleep, and that, coupled with the fact that it felt like someone was sitting on my chest and that I was suffocating, led to anxiety. Eventually I would drop off but then suddenly wake up with a jolt, struggling to breathe.”
After inconclusive tests, Dave was referred to the Oxford Long COVID clinic.
“The meeting with Emma was huge, as I felt I’d run out of options. After so much illness and uncertainty, meeting Emma was completely different – suddenly everything became more human. Emma said my oxygen saturation readings were fine and I would benefit from some breathing techniques which involved breaking the urge to take deep breaths out of panic. It started to give me a new outlook on recovery.”
Respiratory Consultant Emily Fraser, who heads the long COVID service for Oxford University Hospitals, said: “Given the wide variety of symptoms that can be experienced by patients, it has been very effective having OUH and Oxford Health specialists working alongside each other in an integrated team, so that we can make a quick an accurate assessment and refer patients to the most appropriate service – that could be a respiratory clinic at an OUH hospital, an Oxford Health community-based service or both.”
Emma Tucker Post COVID Rehabilitation Coordinator from Oxford Health, said: “We are really proud of the work that we have been able to do to help local people with Long Covid to make progress on their recovery journey.
“Our holistic approach which pools the expertise of both of Oxford’s NHS trusts means we can offer tailored support that we hope will go a long way to tackling this problem.
“We recognise that rehabilitation is a primary aim for our patients and enabling them to both manage their symptoms and return to a previous level of activity. A vast number of people referred to the services are in the 20-50 age bracket and so for many this includes supporting return to work.”
Another patient referred to the Long COVID clinic is Leslie Channon, a housing campaigner, freelance consultant and writer from Burford. The single mother-of-two was admitted to hospital in April 2020 having got a secondary infection after contracting COVID the previous month.
She said: “Six weeks post-COVID, I was barely able to walk to the end of my driveway. It was a slow arduous journey to rebuild my lung function and physical capacity.” Leslie’s Long COVID symptoms included shortness of breath, rashes, gastrointestinal symptoms, debilitating headaches, slowed cognitive function and extreme fatigue.
“Sometime in late October, my debilitating fatigue disappeared. It was as if a switch had been flipped overnight. I am still not out of the Long COVID woods yet, but it feels good to be finding my way back.”
Leslie was referred to the Oxfordshire Long COVID Clinic by her GP and she credits her relationship with her doctor and the support she received following the referral with helping her to get on the road to recovery.
“Being listened to by my GP and by the COVID clinic was incredibly helpful,” says Leslie, who was referred to a physiotherapist. “I didn’t realise that I was suffering from a breathing pattern disorder. So the tachycardia, high blood pressure and other problems were all related to it. I needed help to get my breathing back to normal and that is where the clinic came in.
“I would say to anyone who thinks they may be suffering from Long COVID to speak to your GP and ask for a referral. There may be times when you feel your symptoms will never go away, but there is hope and help there for you.”
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Published: 28 May 2021