In response to the evidenced success of the Long Covid pathway launched in October 2022 by Sport For Confidence CIC in partnership with the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, the program delivery is to be extended beyond Essex, into the neighbouring county of Suffolk. 
According to the Office for National Statistics there are an estimated 1.9 million people, representing 2.9 per cent of the population living with self-reported long Covid. Most common symptoms include fatigue, cognitive issues, anxiety and depression. 
Sarah Fowler, Co-Clinical Lead Suffolk and North East Essex Long Covid Assessment Service, explains: “Long Covid is a complex condition which typically presents as a cluster of symptoms which can change and recur unpredictably over time. Symptoms vary from person to person, meaning treatment and support needs to be flexible, easy to access and person-centred. This is exactly the model Sport For Confidence has created in Essex and will now roll out in Suffolk.” 
Established to support and facilitate the recovery of people experiencing long Covid through swift referral and access to occupational therapists, the pathway first launched in Colchester at the Colchester Leisure World in October 2022 and then extended to Clacton with Clacton Leisure Centre as host venue. 
Since the pathway launched, Sport for Confidence has supported more than 70 individuals, with outcomes measured through participant surveys 6 weeks into the program and on competition at 12 weeks. Participants have demonstrated an average 22% increase in perceived health and wellbeing after taking part in the pathway. In addition, participants have expressed an improvement in the presentation and impact of symptoms they are experiencing such as reduced fatigue and breathlessness. This has resulted in participants being able to return to work, engage in increased levels of physical activity and take part in more social interactions. 
Jamie Squires, Occupational Therapist at Sport For Confidence, says: “This pathway recognises everyone’s experience of Long Covid is different, creating a fully supported, unique recovery journey for every participant. Once referred, every participant completes a one-to-one assessment with a Sport For Confidence occupational therapist. This is used to determine an appropriate intervention route which may include educational sessions, physical activity sessions, clinical referral or a mix of all options. Every case is different so every pathway is unique. 
“Also, the service provision provides an alternative to assessment and support traditionally offered in clinical environments. Service provision within local leisure centres integrates people back into their local communities, whilst also providing the clinical expertise that they need.” 
Based on the success of the pathway in Essex, the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust has now funded the extension of the program into Suffolk. Sport For Confidence continues as delivery partner, working out of the Gainsborough Sports Centre in Ipswich, owned and managed by Ipswich Borough Council and the Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre in Stowmarket, owned by Suffolk County Council, managed by Everyone Active. 
The pathway will welcome its first participant cohort in March 2024. Following the protocol in Essex, participants will be referred through the Suffolk and North East Essex Long Covid Assessment Service. 
Speaking about the pathway, Ian Cotton, Group Aquatics and Activity Manager, Everyone Active, says: “Our mission, at Everyone Active is to enable everyone, along their entire life journey, to lead an active lifestyle that promotes health and wellbeing. By hosting this proven long Covid pathway at the Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre, we are supporting people who might otherwise struggle to access services and expertise that help them tackle this debilitating condition. Sport For Confidence is already a known and trusted partner to Everyone Active so I’m really looking forward to welcoming the team into the Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre to deliver this important work.” 
Councillor John Cook, Ipswich Borough Council Portfolio Holder for Communities and Sport, adds: 
“We aim to provide sport and physical activity opportunities to everyone. By hosting this proven long Covid pathway, managed and delivered by Sport For Confidence occupational therapists and sports coaches already experienced in delivering the model within a leisure centre environment, we can provide the best possible support for optimal recovery.” 
Connah Lloyd, Senior Development Officer (Health & Wellbeing) at Active Suffolk has been instrumental in extending the Long Covid pathway into Suffolk. Connah comments: “Having understood the success of the pathway in Essex, I was immediately convinced that people in Suffolk could and should also benefit from the service. I set about facilitating introductions to make this possible. As an Active Partnership we are focused on facilitating opportunities that empower people to live active, healthy lives. This pathway does exactly that for those who might otherwise find it hard to access services. I am delighted to have played a small part in bringing this vital service to Suffolk.” 
The long Covid pathway is scheduled to start in March at both leisure venues in Suffolk and will see the extension of Sport For Confidence services into the county for the first time, adding to the services already being delivered across Essex and parts of London. 
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