Dr Sari Harenwall (above), Principal Clinical Psychologist, says she’s been amazed by the sense of community from group members and the support that has been offered

A new service to be delivered in Bradford, Airedale, Wharfedale and Craven gives hope to people with Long COVID, as a report published shows it is effective at treating those living with the post-viral disease.

The ‘Recovering from COVID’ course first ran in October 2020 as a pilot to support NHS staff and hospitalised COVID patients who self-reported as having Long COVID.

Since then, seven more courses were funded to support social, health and care staff specifically. Participants gave excellent feedback and, on average, rated their health as significantly better than before starting the course.

Heather Pontefract, Consultant in Special Care Dentistry, enrolled on the course in March last year after getting Covid-19 and struggling to return to work afterwards.

Heather Pontefract, Consultant in Special Care Dentistry

She explained: “My experience of Covid was like a rollercoaster. Some days were an uphill struggle with fatigue, brain fog, headaches, insomnia and issues with palpitations and blood pressure.

“I still have quite a few days when it is very difficult or impossible for me to work. I was looking for resources that would help support my return to work and cope with the problems I was having.”

Long COVID is increasingly recognised as a long-term illness that some may continue to suffer with well after fighting the initial Covid-19 infection. It can have a significant impact on physical and mental health, although researchers are still trying to understand what exactly causes it.

The symptoms change over time and can affect any system in the body, for example feeling extremely tired, breathlessness, brain fog, difficulty sleeping, and low mood or anxiety.

Heather described how the ‘Recovering from COVID’ course made a difference by supporting her to manage the symptoms: “The course was run and executed really well. All the speakers were well informed on their subjects. They allowed participants to get involved too which was really important as we haven’t had other peer support from anywhere.

“I am still treated a bit like an outlier by some people. I think they find it difficult to empathise as they had Covid and didn’t struggle in the same way, but the others in the group never made me feel like that.

“The predominant problems changed; I was able to do more to control fatigue and use the other advice while I was completing the course as I was returning to work gradually. I always have the guidance to fall back on if I get ill again.”

The seven-week course is delivered virtually by the Primary Care and Wellbeing service (PCWBS) at Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust (BDCFT). This is an inter-disciplinary team including a clinical psychologist, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, dietitian, speech and language therapist, assistant psychologist, personal support navigator and a team administrator.

The team works closely together to look at different aspects of patients’ lives, including sleep, diet, stress, mobility, as well as social, physical and emotional demands to support their recovery. Taking this holistic approach means the team can offer tailored advice to help people understand how to manage symptoms and improve their overall health.

These courses are now being rolled out across the district so that local people with Long COVID can be referred by their GP.

Dr. Sari Harenwall, Principal Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Sari Harenwall, Principal Clinical Psychologist at the Trust and corresponding author of the report, said: “We are very excited to share the results from this study which gives us a lot of optimism for treatment of Long COVID. Although we recognise that the course will not resolve all Long COVID symptoms, it has the potential of setting people on the right path and reducing the risk of it worsening.

“I have been amazed by the sense of community from group members and the support that has been offered, even though the course has been virtual. Some cohorts have even set up their own WhatsApp group! Others have told me that the breathing exercises have changed their lives and improved energy and sleep, so we are optimistic that the new service can deliver that care on a wider scale.”

“This is why I am excited to share that the three major trusts (BDCFT, Airedale NHS Foundation Trust and Bradford Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust) and leaders in the voluntary sector have come together to roll this support out across the district. This means that people with Long COVID can now be referred by their GP to access the course, as well as individual assessment and treatment from a team of healthcare professionals.”