High rehabilitation demand a ‘long-term consequence’ of pandemic

Referral to physiotherapy may be helpful for musculoskeletal symptoms associated with “long Covid”. Image: Shutterstock

As many as 100,000 intensive care patients, on top of the 350,000 Covid-19 patients treated on general wards, could need long-term care and rehabilitation, which could have an impact on their ability to return to work and on relatives providing informal care while working.

According to a report in The Independent, there has been a 50% increase in referrals for community nursing, with staff having to work longer shifts and extra days to cope with demand.

Less critical services have also been stopped, which could affect individuals waiting for rehabilitation and support for other health concerns.

Labour’s shadow health minister Liz Kendall said: “There will be huge pressures on community services as people who need long-term support are discharged back into their own homes.

“Ministers have got to put in place a proper workforce strategy for the NHS and community care otherwise we will see people struggling to recover and the burden of care could also fall on their families.

“This is one of the long-term consequences of Covid that we haven’t begun to even think through yet.”

Dr Zudin Puthucheary, an intensive care consultant at the Royal London Hospital and chair of the Intensive Care Society’s national rehabilitation collaborative, said that the rehabilitation “disaster” would be the “next pandemic” if further investment in national rehabilitation programmes is not forthcoming.

“We need to get going today, the clock is ticking,” he said.

Specialists such as physiotherapists and speech and language therapists have been redeployed to help hospitals during the Covid-19 crisis, putting further pressure on rehabilitation services.

Research by Dr Puthucheary found 98% of Covid patients who were admitted to intensive care at 26 English hospitals needed physiotherapy, with 100% needing occupational therapy. More than nine in 10 needed support to help regain their speech.

He said: “People can lose 2 or 3 per cent of their muscle mass every day in ICU and Covid patients can be in ICU for 12 days or even longer

“A 5 to 10 per cent loss of your muscle mass is a life-changing amount. It changes your function, how you are able to walk, whether you can go shopping by yourself.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said that the government was “doing everything it can” to support vital health and care services and was investing nearly £52bn this year alone.

“There are currently record numbers of NHS staff, including 11,000 more nurses and 6,300 more doctors than this time last year, but we are also offering new non-repayable training grants for eligible nursing, midwifery and allied health students, to make sure our health and social care sectors continue to have the workforce they need to deliver high quality care, now and in the future,” it said in a statement.

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