25 January 2022

Long Covid service receives over 1,200 referrals in first year

A hub which provides support to patients suffering long term effects of Covid-19 infection has received well over 1,000 referrals in its first year of opening.

The Sheffield Post Covid Rehabilitation Hub was set up in January 2021 by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the NHS Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group to help patients with symptoms of Long Covid.

It has so far had more than 1,200 patients referred to it for help assessing their needs and accessing relevant services.

Around one in five people who have had a Covid-19 infection go on to develop longer term symptoms, with most reporting symptoms as having disappeared after 12 weeks. However, for a smaller group of people the effects can be longer lasting, with sufferers experiencing brain fog, anxiety, depression, breathlessness, fatigue and other symptoms that can affect their quality of life.

Patients who are suffering symptoms of Long Covid following Covid infection and have holistic rehabilitation needs are referred to the hub by GPs and hospital teams. Referrals are made 12 weeks following acute infection, in line in with NICE recommendations.

Patients who are referred have an initial assessment with a care coordinator and are provided with self-help materials and guidance. They may then be referred on to the other services depending on their individual needs and symptoms.

The hub is supported by a consultant physician and psychologist to help identify the wider medical and psychological complications associated with Long Covid.

Chris Leffler, 30, of Malin Bridge, Sheffield, is one patient who has been supported by the hub. Working as a teacher at the time, he caught Covid in October 2021 and after initially having symptoms similar to ‘a bad cold’, over subsequent weeks he found that his condition was getting worse and he was suffering other symptoms such as muscle twitches, fatigue, rashes and speech problems.

His GP referred him to the hub and he had virtual appointments with a care coordinator who assessed his symptoms and worked with him to help him access a dermatology specialist, speech therapy, mental health support and an exercise programme.

Chris said: “The hub was brilliant, it helped me to manage all the different symptoms and coordinate all the different support I had.

“It would have been very difficult for the GP to do all of those things so it was great to have someone who could sit down and talk through the various things and that really helped me. It also validated the concerns I had because I had found it was impacting on my mental health.

“Virtual appointments also worked well for me because at the time having to come in for an appointment would have made me very tired, so doing it from home was preferable.”

Chris, who was an active person who went the gym and enjoyed walking and rugby, said he now felt like he was back to around “80-90% of my old self, compared to about 30% before.”

“I am not completely recovered but I am much better, and it doesn’t stop me doing the things I want to do. My capacity is much more, my focus is better, I am back at the gym. I am continuing to log symptoms to help track my progress.”
He has also made the decision to leave teaching and start his own business, which he said gives him greater flexibility and helps him to manage the condition.

The hub was established in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. To establish the service rapidly in response to this new medical need, the team included patients who had Long Covid, known as ‘experts by experience’, to ensure their needs were central to the service design and collaborated with clinical leaders throughout the city to share knowledge.

The hub is also involved in research work around Long Covid.
It was recognised by being shortlisted for a national Health Service Journal patient safety award.

Dr Sarah Jenkins, Programme Lead for the Sheffield Long Covid Programme, said: “To have well over 1,000 referrals in our first year as a service for a disease that wasn’t known 18 months earlier shows how much of a need there is for Long Covid suffers to have access to services and advice that can help them to recover.

“It is still a new disease and we are continually learning and developing to create an integrated follow-up and rehabilitation pathway that meets the needs of all of Sheffield’s diverse population.”

Dr Anthony Gore, Clinical Director at NHS Sheffield CCG, said: “It is testament to the hard work of all the clinicians, managers and most importantly patients that we were able to establish this service quickly in response to the Covid pandemic.

“The fact that 1,200 people have already been referred to the hub shows how much of difference it is already making to people with Long Covid.”

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