‘Some have run marathons’ – the young fill long Covid clinics

Number facing debilitating long-term condition is going up

Friday, 11th June 2021 — By Tom Foot

Heidi Ridsdale (left) and Rachel Okin

Physiotherapists Heidi Ridsdale (left) and Rachel Okin

“LONG Covid” rehab clinics are filling up with young and previously fit people.

While the number of deaths from the corona­virus may have been slashed dramatically in recent weeks, the numbers facing a debilitating long-term condition is going up.

Physiotherapist Heidi Ridsdale, who is part of a specialist rehab team at St Pancras Hospital, said: “We’re not talking about people who were fighting for their lives.

“The vast majority weren’t in hospital with Covid in the first place, many were not even that unwell.”

She added: “Maybe they have seen people died around them, while they were just going to work – and so they may feel like they shouldn’t be complaining about it. The other element – is that no one even knew what this was. It didn’t have a name.”

The Central North West London (CNWL) Long Term Conditions (LTC) Team has set up the long Covid rehab team at St Pancras Hospital.

Patients get referred to the service from the UCLH long Covid clinic and are given access to a specialist app that allows them to message experts from home with questions and updates.

The physios say the “telemedicine” system gives them more time to devote to older patients who need face-to-face meetings.

Rachel Okin, another of the specialist physio­therapists, told the Tribune: “We are seeing large numbers of patients now – a lot of young people. There is a group of healthcare professionals. There are lots of people who were super-fit marathon runners – ultra-marathon runners even.”

She added: “It’s not like having a broken leg, where they can see it getting better.

“You can’t see long Covid. So there is a big sense of validation among the patients when to find they are being listened to, and told it’s ok not to be able to do things they could do before.”

The therapists said the key symptoms they are working with are breathlessness, fatigue, “brain fog”, memory loss, gut problems, joint pain, dizziness and high blood pressure. It is also leading to mental health problems, anxiety and depression.

And it is not just physical tiredness which is being reported, but also “cognitive fatigue” – that can affect looking at screens or reading.

The experts are noticing “boom and bust cycles” where patients try and pack in as many activities on “good days”, and then crash.

Ms Okin said: “We want to be quite clear that we cannot take these symptoms away. For us, it’s not about curing long Covid. It’s about understanding people’s symptoms and teaching people lots of strategies. It is what is realistically achievable.”

The app being used by the CNWL is only available to referred patients but advice is also available at www.yourcovidrecovery.nhs.uk

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