An overview of service provision in response to the issue of social isolation and Long COVID, and a look at how we are returning to business as usual.
Emma Cox: Programme Director – Surrey Downs Integrated Care Partnership
The Panel received a presentation from Dr Hilary Floyd and Emma Cox. The presentation provided an overview of service provision in response to the issue of social isolation and Long COVID, and a look at how we are returning to business as usual.
Dr Floyd presented an overview of some of the issues in recovery of COVID patients, stating that when the pandemic first started, there was a significant focus on ITU and acute care. As time moved on, it was recognised that as these patients left hospital they required more support to recover from the effects of long COVID. The Seacole Centre was opened in May 2020 in response to this need.
Some of the patients who had been ventilated for a long time (60-90 days) were not fit to return home or to their Care Home straight away and so received inpatient rehabilitation care at the Seacole Centre. Others were able to return to their home with an on-going care package including an exercise schedule.
Many people who contracted COVID did not require hospital admittance. However Dr Floyd advised that it had also been noted that some of these patients reported Long COVID (fatigue, breathlessness, on-going coughs, exercise intolerance) and were often unable to return to work.
The Long COVID programme had been initiated, and Leatherhead Hospital provided rehab programmes for these patients. Services were delivered by Surrey Downs Health and Care, Epsom Hospital and Sutton Health and Care. People seen at the service attended to get their energy levels back up, but also to receive psychological support.
The service has been extended to primary care and GPs could now refer people to a rehabilitation service. Leisure centres and gyms had also been approached to see if this work could continue in the community.
Dr Floyd advised the Panel that primary care was operating and GPs were keen to see their patients. Dr Floyd stressed the importance of seeing patients with chronic disease, to assist in preventing severe COVID. Surgeries were now holding 50% of consultations face-to-face.
The Chairman asked if the newer emerging treatments for COVID patients that were having an effect on reducing Long-COVID symptoms.
Dr Floyd advised it was too early to tell whether the new treatments were having an impact on Long-COVID.
Emma Cox gave the Panel an overview of the Surrey Heartlands Organisational Development Programme, Surrey 500. Emma advised that this was a programme that looked to bring together partners, staff and managers from across systems to look at particular challenge or initiative within their place.
Surrey Downs ICP recruited 70-80 representatives from key partners, including from the voluntary sector and Districts and Boroughs.
Work was undertaken across the Districts and Borough in Surrey Downs, looking at what they felt the challenges were, and to find the common ground in how to tackle the issue of social isolation and loneliness. Work was undertaken with Central Surrey Voluntary Action and the Coalition for the Disabled, to develop a programme that was evidence based, and would provide the best possible solution.
The Tech to Community Connect Project was subsequently developed in partnership with the above organisations, and in partnership with Action for Carers.
The project was specifically designed to support the reduction in loneliness, isolation, technophobia and digital exclusion. The initiative looked to provide devices, and ‘Tech Angels’ (volunteers) who can support residents to develop their skills. This was being done virtually.
A Councillor asked if there are plans for Surrey Heartlands to reach out and connect with organisations where all staff were working from home, and are having very little outside engagement.
Emma Cox acknowledged the impact that a long period of home working could have on both physical and mental health. Surrey Heartlands ICP were working across all organisations and regularly liaising with staff, conducting risk assessments, and trying to help staff teams feel more connected. This would require regular monitoring.
A Councillor asked about the financial barriers in being able to access technology, and whether this has been observed as an issue for many accessing the service.
Emma Cox advised that research had shown that for some residents the greatest barriers had been the fear and anxiety of going on-line. In this respect the Tech Angels had been invaluable and were integral to the project.
A Councillor asked if the Tech Angels were going to be put on the ambassadors training for ‘scam spotting’.
Emma Cox informed the meeting that this suggestion would be passed to the relevant team.
A Councillor reflected that the scheme appeared to focus on older people as opposed to younger people.
Emma Cox confirmed there was no age limited and anyone could be referred to the project. The criteria were flexible, with the only set requirement being if a person is feeling lonely and needs support. The project focussed on older people, those who may have experienced long COVID, or any resident who has come into contact with front-line services.
The Chairman thanked the guest speakers, Daniel Elkeles, Dr Hilary Floyd and Emma Cox for their presentations.