Sport for Confidence CIC has teamed up with East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust to integrate a community-based pathway to support people experiencing Long Covid. 
Long Covid describes when a person is experiencing symptoms 12 weeks after the first suspected COVID-19 infection. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), as of January 2023 there were 2 million cases of self-reported Long Covid in the UK (3 per cent of the population). Most common symptoms include fatigue, muscle soreness, shortness of breath, cognitive issues, anxiety and depression. 
“Long Covid is a complex condition that affects every individual differently, with symptoms often presenting in clusters of varying degree,” explains Sarah Fowler, Co-Clinical Lead Suffolk and North East Essex Long Covid Assessment Service. “This makes the treatment and support of the condition equally complex, requiring a flexible, easy access, person-centred approach. All participants accepted onto this pathway had experienced symptoms for at least 12 weeks since their initial COVID-19 symptoms. 
“Through our partnership with Sport For Confidence, the Suffolk and North East Essex Long Covid Assessment Service (SNELCAS) refers people to local leisure centre-based occupational therapists who conduct an initial one-to-one assessment which then determines an appropriate intervention route. This may include educational sessions, physical activity sessions, clinical referral or a mix of all options. Every case is different so every pathway is unique. After the initial one-to-one consultation, assessment is ongoing with official one-to-one consultations scheduled at week six and 12 months.” 
The pathway launched in October 2022. The pilot started in Colchester, Essex and has now expanded to Clacton, Essex. Robert Walker, Clinical Lead, Occupational Therapist at Sport For Confidence, says: “ONS data from 2021 reports that long Covid adversely affects the day-to-day ability of around two thirds of people experiencing the condition. This has demonstrated a negative impact on a person’s mental, physical and social wellbeing. With implementation of occupation-focused approaches, this enables people to self-manage common symptoms and consequences of Long Covid, such as fatigue, cognitive issues, anxiety and depression. 
Robert continues: “Through this pathway, every participant embarks on a bespoke recovery journey, tailored to their individual needs. Also, some people place a negative association on a clinical environment so moving to community-based locations such as the home or leisure centre removes this potential barrier, improving acceptance and accessibility. The introduction of this pathway is all about putting the individual in touch with the right people, in the right place at the right time to optimise recovery.” 
The pathway is funded by the Suffolk and North East Essex Long Covid Assessment Service (SNELCAS) and has, so far, supported 48 individuals. Success will be measured via the outcomes achieved by each participant. In addition to recording qualitative feedback received throughout the pathway from each participant on how they perceive their improvements, the EQ-5D-5L and Fatigue severity scale will be utilised at initial assessment, 6 week and 12 weeks to record changes in health and wellbeing. The programme will be continually fine-tuned in response to learnings relating to success of individual interventions based on these outcomes and qualitative feedback received. 
Using Allied Health Professionals, most commonly Occupational Therapists, within the pathway, ensures throughout a participant’s journey – the Occupational Therapist is on site and available weekly to help manage and asses post exertional malaise when participants take part in the physical activity components of the pathway. This ensures that the needs of individuals are continually supported and reviewed. 
Jamie Squires, Occupational Therapist, Sport For Confidence, who is also delivering the pathway, says: “Interventions delivered by Sport For Confidence address a range of symptoms associated with Long Covid, including fatigue and pain, impaired cognitive function and issues with sleep. Some sessions are practical, employing tailored physical activity whilst others are theoretical. 
“All sessions are designed to help the individual understand and self-manage their own recovery. Taking ownership of their recovery through practical application and education encourages longer term behavioural change that will not only help them manage Long Covid, but also boost their immunity and mental resilience to protect against future infection and disease.” 
The partnership is currently supporting people in Colchester and Clacton referred through SNELCAS with Sport For Confidence occupational therapists based at Leisure World Colchester and Clacton Leisure Centre. 
To find out more about Long Covid and the referral process into SNELCAS, visit: 
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