Published: 14:03, 03 June 2021
| Updated: 16:29, 03 June 2021
Patients recovering from Covid are being put through their paces as part of a new test to help get back to health.
The pilot scheme operating in Kent sees people take a walking test as part of the rehabilitation with their performance recorded to improve their fitness and recovery.
Physios from the Kent Community Health NHS Trust are running the scheme which was initially devised for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
In recent weeks, it is now being used for post-Covid patients too.
Health experts use the tests to gain precise and accurate measurements of a patient's fitness and ability allowing them to advise on tailored exercise plans to meet the person's individual and specific needs.
Results have shown patients with chronic respiratory conditions have a better and faster recovery.
The test involves carrying out shuttles and has seen 70% of patients see an improvement in their exercise ability – a 12% increase on the target level.
The six-week programme, which is similar to a bleep test but carried out at walking pace, sees patients steadily and gradually build up their walking pace until they are either breathless and unable to continue or falling behind on the bleeps signalling when each shuttle should be completed.
Carol Holt, from Swanscombe, saw her walking distance increase from 40m at the start to 190m six weeks later with a 50m increase in distance considered to be "significant improvement".
The 69-year-old, who was recently diagnosed with COPD and then caught Covid and pneumonia, said: "It has really helped me. At the beginning, I could barely walk or stand. I’d lost a lot of confidence.
"The team coached me and encouraged me and I’m so pleased with the results.”
After her COPD diagnosis and subsequent illness, her lung function was drastically impacted and she was referred by hospital doctors to the KCHFT pulmonary rehabilitation team, based at Whitstable and Tankerton Hospital.
Meanwhile, Di Robbins from Greenhithe also saw huge benefits from the course after her COPD diagnosis.
"At the beginning, I could barely walk or stand. I’d lost a lot of confidence..."
The 66-year-old said: "It’s been brilliant. What was prescribed was just right for me.
"The team helped me to understand what I should be doing and how much of it I should do, to get fitter and improve muscle. I’ve been using dumb bells, which is something I would never have thought of."
One of the major impacts of contracting Covid is the effect of long-term breathlessness and lung function due to the way the virus attacks the lungs and respiratory system.
Tackling the effects of long Covid is becoming a key area of research and priority for NHS staff to help patients recover fully.
NHS Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has also set up a designated centre to help support patients with long Covid – also called Post Covid Syndrome – which opened last month.
Kate Savage, clinical lead physiotherapist who has led the project, said: “We are getting much better results now. Patients are improving more than before, because we can now accurately prescribe what exercise they should be taking.
"It’s been brilliant. The team helped me to understand what I should be doing..."
“Evidencing the improvement patients are making, linked to their daily living and quality of life, provides additional motivation for them and their carers to engage with rehabilitation. It also provides job satisfaction for our staff.”
The test was first introduced 18 months ago and ran until March 2020, when it was paused as a result of the pandemic and when virtual consultations and assessments took place.
Face-to-face tests resumed in October 2020, in a Covid-secure way.
The service in Kent has seen a huge increase and is above the national average of 60% of patients seeing improvements.
Kate said: “The project led to efficiency, due to the shorter time needed to conduct the incremental shuttle walk test. This should help to reduce waiting times for patients accessing the service.”
The project was run using quality improvement (QI) methodology and tools, which is used as a standard measure around the world.