Spotlight on our Somerset Post-COVID-19 Assessment Service
With the winter months fast approaching and the usual bugs and illnesses starting to circulate, it’s a good time to remember that for some people, the impact of COVID-19 lasts longer than just a few days.
In January 2023 the Office for National Statistics estimated that around two million people (3.1% of the population) in the UK were living with Post-COVID-19 Syndrome – around 1 in 30 people in the country.
If Somerset had an average number of cases of people with Post-COVID-19 Syndrome, it could form a town the size of Wellington!
You could have family members or colleagues living with this condition, with some even suffering in silence, concerned they won’t be believed.
People with Post-COVID-19 Syndrome may visit our trust as outpatients, or be admitted with other conditions, and some tell us when they mention their ‘Post-COVID-19 Syndrome’ symptoms, they are not believed or understood.
There are approximately 200 symptoms people can experience, but the most common are: i) 71% Fatigue; ii) 52% Difficulty concentrating (Brain Fog); iii) 48% Shortness of breath; 47% Muscle aches.
People also reported the impact it has on their daily life and their ability to work: i) 77% Symptoms adversely affected day to day activities; ii) 19% Ability to undertake day to day activities had been ‘limited a lot’.
By reading this article you can help to support people by pointing them in the right direction for help from our Somerset Post-COVID-19 Assessment Service, or simply acknowledging how they are feeling.
The development of our Somerset Post-COVID-19 Assessment Service and how it works
In early 2021 a series of Post-COVID-19 Assessment Services were developed across England as part of the government’s response to the pandemic.
A total of 86 clinics were set up to offer Post-COVID-19 assessment, to identify people who were experiencing Post-COVID-19 Syndrome and to look at what support they needed, as well as providing an onward referral to a service that best meets their needs.
Our Somerset Post-COVID-19 Assessment Service is commissioned by the NHS Somerset Integrated Care Board (ICB) to provide a specialist assessment, diagnosis and rehabilitation for adults aged 18 years or over within Somerset.
The service is for those who are experiencing signs and symptoms that developed during or following a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection, which continue for more than 12 weeks. The assessment is based on NICE guidelines and includes a personalised management plan to support recovery.
All patients referred to the service get an assessment with one of the Post-COVID-19 Specialist GPs working within the service – these may be via phone, ‘Attend anywhere’, or in person if requested.
As the service has grown, care pathways have become more individualised and tailored to each patient’s needs.
There are now a number of treatment pathways offered by the service, including: i) Fatigue management groups; ii) Physio support for breathing pattern disorder; iii) Cognitive screening and support; iv) Employment advice workshops; v) 1 to 1 clinical input; vi) direct access to Talking Therapies.
The management plan given to patients includes advice, support and self-help resources, or a referral to specialist services for support or rehabilitation where appropriate.
After a patient has completed their assessment and management plan, they are discharged from the service back into the care of their GP.
Lorraine Perry, our lead for the service, said she was impressed with the way colleagues went above and beyond to set up a service that was completely new to healthcare.
“In many ways our Post-COVID-19 Assessment Service is a service like no other,” she said. “We have had to set it up and then adapt and develop as we find out more about COVID-19,” she said.
Our colleagues at NHS England (South West) oversaw the setup of clinics within the region, but due to the speed Post-COVID-19 Assessment services were set up across the country, with little evidence about the condition and no national guidance, there is understandably variation within services across England. This inevitably has an impact in the way they are run, and the experience of patients.
Lorraine continues: “Our team has been amazing, as despite the many challenges we have faced, the commitment our colleagues have shown to increase their understanding of this condition, and to provide a service that is responsive both to new evidence and patients’ needs, is at the heart of what we do. I cannot thank my colleagues enough for their support and determination in the continued development of this service.
“When the service was set up in December 2020, we only had a single GP and colleague from the former Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group involved. By February 2021, we were able to begin offering 1:1 telephone assessments to patients.
“We now have a service lead, administrator, two GPs with a special interest in Post-COVID-19 Syndrome, two specialist occupational therapists, a physiotherapist, a health psychologist, two specialist fatigue practitioner nurses, two health navigators, and a peer support group facilitator.
“We’re able to provide a more comprehensive self-management group programme, with our health navigators supporting patients to understand the services available to them, and how to access community and voluntary resources when needed.
“Since February 2022, our peer support group facilitator has developed a number of online peer support groups, bringing people who experience Post-COVID-19 Syndrome together, to help reduce the sense of isolation that so many describe, as well as sharing information on the strategies and advice that are supporting them.
“This year we have added ‘Moving Forward with Peer Support’ meetings for those who are starting to navigate returning to work and life, while still progressing on the ‘Post-COVID’ journey – we’re making some great headway.”
For more information about our Post-COVID-19 Assessment Service, including how to refer into the service, go to : https://www.somersetft.nhs.uk/somersetlongcovid/ or email PostCovid19Recovery@somersetft.nhs.uk.