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New approach to tackling the long-lasting symptoms of COVID-19

New approach to tackling the long-lasting symptoms of COVID-19

The National Institute for Health Research has awarded £782,000 to a new recovery programme to treat people suffering the effects of what is sometimes called Long-Covid.

The Living With Covid Recovery Programme has been developed with the help of the NIHR Applied Research Collaborations for Wessex and North Thames (NIHR ARC Wessex and NIHR ARC North Thames) in partnership with the University of Southampton, University College London (the lead research organisation), NHS Trusts in London and a company called Living With Ltd.

Long-Covid is a term used to describe the illness some people get after they have recovered from the COVID-19 infection. It’s thought up to 10% of people who have had COVID-19 go on to develop Long-Covid.

The collaboration between the Universities, NIHR ARC Wessex, NIHR ARC NT, the NHS and Living With Ltd has created a Recovery Programme to help rehabilitate people with symptoms of Long-Covid in their own homes.

The Living With Covid Recovery Programme works with a consultant doctor, an Allied Health Professional and the patient alongside an app on a smartphone or tablet device.

People experiencing Long-Covid can feel unwell in a number of ways and have more than one symptom. These can include feeling breathless, sad, down or worried and anxious, aches and pains, not wanting to eat or eating poorly, what’s called ‘brain fog’ and tiredness or fatigue.

All of these symptoms or feelings are genuine and are the result of the COVID-19 virus. The good news is there are already tried and tested ways to reduce these symptoms and get better.

Very often these symptoms are linked, so for example if someone is feeling tired and achy, they may not want to exercise, may not feel hungry and therefore feel quite down. The Living With Covid Recovery App works by helping patients through some simple exercises and health tips to break the links between these symptoms, bit-by-bit.

Like many things in the world when you break a problem down into smaller parts it’s easier to deal with them. The App works a bit like this. Breaking down the links between symptoms of Long-Covid with the help of a doctor, nurse or a member of NHS staff. They can check-in with the patient, offer advice and support through messaging or over the phone.

Dr Katherine Bradbury is a Health Psychologist and Senior Research Fellow based in Psychology at the University of Southampton. She is funded for this work by NIHR ARC Wessex. She believes the Living With Covid Recovery Programme can help:

"Many people are finding that Long-Covid leaves them with really difficult symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, breathlessness, anxiety or depression. The new rehab service can help immensely. Care will be delivered by both a clinician and our App. The App has been designed by patients with Long-Covid and top clinicians. It has been used to treat people with Long-Covid in London since August. To date, feedback has been extremely positive."  

During a pilot project at St Barts NHS Trust in London the Living With Covid Recovery Programme, including the App, helped NHS staff to support and treat many more patients than they would be able to normally. The App also allows patients to message the NHS staff looking after them with questions or to ask for help. The member of NHS staff is able to monitor improvement in the patient symptoms from a laptop, personalise their care and make sure the patients are on the road to recovery.

Hannah Hylton is a physiotherapist who tested the App in London:

"The Living With Covid Recovery App is an innovative way of providing digital health care. As clinicians we can monitor outcomes and offer patient education, support and encouragement for the emerging group of patients with long lasting Covid symptoms."

Sophie, a patient using the App as part of her recovery from long covid symptoms:

"Five months after having Covid, I was still feeling very breathless and easily tired - even walks could frustratingly leave me coughing and wheezing. I started using the Living With Covid Recovery App in August and have found it very helpful in tracking my progress and building up my activity levels. 

One of the most important aspects for me is the connection to support and advice from my own physiotherapist and doctors through the App, which has helped reassure me and made me feel that I'm not alone."

The Living With Covid Recovery App was developed by Living With Ltd, a company set up by Chris Robson who himself has a long term illness and wanted to help support people.

“What’s really powerful is the way that patients with Long-Covid are getting truly personalised remote support from the doctor on their App, to help them deal with their particular symptoms.  NHS staff can efficiently and quickly monitor, message and treat patients from their own clinic dashboard. We can see from the existing clinics that patients really value the connectivity to their clinician and the personalised treatment they are receiving, and it is making a big difference.”

Elizabeth Murray is a GP, Professor of eHealth and Primary Care, Co-Director of the eHealth Unit and Head of the Research Department of Primary Care and Population Health at University College London:

“Long-Covid is a miserable illness, with its fatigue, brain fog, breathlessness and mental health sequelae*. These are all a direct result of the virus. But there are tried and tested ways of helping people with these symptoms and Living With Covid Recovery is designed to help clinicians deliver these treatments to large numbers of patients in a supportive fashion. 

We know that people who are using the digital programme feel supported by their clinicians and are seeing their symptoms improve.”

This study is one of a number of COVID-19 studies that have been funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) as part of its Recovery and Learning project, totalling £5.5m in funding, to help better manage current and future waves of the COVID-19 pandemic and investigate its long-term impacts on the health and care system beyond the acute phase.

CONTACTS:

Jamie Stevenson, NIHR ARC Wessex - jamie.stevenson@soton.ac.uk

See the UCL web page for more detailed information 

NOTES:

*sequelae; a condition which is the consequence of a previous disease or injury.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR commissions applied health research to benefit the poorest people in low- and middle-income countries, using Official Development Assistance funding.

This work uses data provided by patients and collected by the NHS as part of their care and support and would not have been possible without access to this data. The NIHR recognises and values the role of patient data, securely accessed and stored, both in underpinning and leading to improvements in research and care. www.nihr.ac.uk/patientdata

Partner organisations:

National Institute for Health Research

University of Southampton 

UCL

UCL Partners

Living With Ltd.

Barts Health

NHS Trust

Central and North West London

NHS Foundation Trust