Virtual group helps support coronavirus patients

A screengrab of the ITU support group

Published on 29 May 2020

A group of patients recovering from coronavirus are getting specialist support with rehabilitation via videoconferencing, thanks to staff from East Kent Hospitals.

The critical care follow-up and rehabilitation team have turned to technology to help them run exercise sessions, as well as giving people a chance to share their experiences of recovery. 

The first session took place on Tuesday and proved a great success, according to critical care follow-up and rehabilitation specialist nurse Lucy Mummery.

She said: “Some people thought they were the only ones experiencing memory loss, or finding it hard to concentrate, and being able to talk to others in the same boat was really valuable for them. 

“There were a lot of common themes, whether it was trouble eating or sleeping, or their feelings about surviving COVID-19 when the news is full of people who are dying from it.

“Others were worried about persistent coughs, or fatigue, and we were able to do a lot of trouble-shooting and reassuring.” 

Lucy, and specialist critical care physiotherapist Sarah Gotke, usually run the groups in the gym at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital. It is open to anyone who has been in intensive care for a prolonged period, whether after major surgery, cardiac arrest, seizures or conditions such as meningitis.

But meeting in person isn’t possible because of restrictions due to the virus, so the pair decided to see if a virtual group would work instead. 

Lucy said: “Normally we find patients talk as they exercise and share experiences, and they always find that really valuable.

“Most patients who have been in intensive care lose muscle tone and strength and we work with them to rebuild this through a package of rehabilitation and physiotherapy. 

“Sarah led a session of seated exercise for the first half of the meeting, then we opened it up for them to chat.

“They all found it helpful, although some of them needed a nap afterwards, and they are all going to join us next week.” 

The group is part of a package of support, which usually includes ward visits from the outreach team, telephone support, follow-up clinic appointments and accompanied visits to the intensive care unit to see where they were cared for and meet the team. There is also a monthly support group.

During the coronavirus outbreak, the critical care outreach team is providing more support to patients on the wards before they are discharged home, and physiotherapists and occupational therapists from across the Trust have made individual calls to patients at home. 

Stephen Robinson, who spent a month in hospital – including three weeks in intensive care – with COVID-19, said the group was a great help.

He said: “It has been fantastic to be able to talk to others who have been in the same situation and to find out that they are going through the same things as you are. 

“When I came out of ITU I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk or swallow, I couldn’t eat or drink.

“I still get fatigued and hearing others say the same, and getting reassurance from the staff, has been really valuable.”