In January, the NHS launched a new service to help patients suffering from Long Covid, and there are now six rehab-focused clinics open across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
Fareham mum Lisa Brown is one of hundreds of local people to be referred to the Long Covid clinics.
A physiotherapist, Lisa is still suffering with symptoms despite battling her initial illness more than a year ago.
Lisa, 54, fell ill during a snowboarding trip to Sierra Nevada last February - before she was even aware of Covid-19.
She said: ‘When we got to Spain I started to feel really unwell with a massive headache.
‘My chest was making this really strange noise - when I breathed out it was like crackling.
‘I was coughing, and coughing, and coughing. I could barely breathe in, it was so painful.’
Concerned that Lisa’s temperature had become very high and she seemed delirious, Lisa’s partner drove her to hospital where she was put on oxygen and steroids.
Lisa, who has two daughters and is also a grandmother, said: ‘I’m one of the ones who lived to tell the tale, and that makes me feel quite humble and lucky. I was really sick.
‘You become fearful. I was so ill from what I had, my body could not sustain anything else.’
Although Lisa recovered from her initial bout with Covid-19, returning to work as a case manager for people with catastrophic injuries, she has been left with lasting symptoms and is periodically unwell.
She said: ‘Now I get this tightening, burning in my chest that makes you feel that you need to lie down.
‘The fatigue is the weirdest thing, I’d go out in the garden and my legs would give way. My body just didn’t have the strength.
‘My chest was wheezing like mad, and that’s what I’ve been left with - and I’ve gone from being a person who never had a cough, never smoked or anything, but now I get this tightening, burning in my chest that makes you feel that you need to lie down. It comes and goes in waves for me.’
Long Covid, which refers to the symptoms experienced by patients sometimes months after the initial Covid-19 infection is over, can leave sufferers with a range of symptoms including fatigue, breathlessness, chest pain, and mental health problems.
It can affect anyone who has had Covid-19, even those who are young and fit or previously healthy.
Figures show that Lisa is one of many Long Covid sufferers in the area, with data for the clinics in Hampshire and Isle of Wight demonstrating that there were 318 referrals to the clinic service by March 5.
Lisa was referred to the Long Covid clinic by her GP after Christmas, and now she speaks to them remotely via telephone consultations.
She said: ‘It’s just having somebody validate your experience, having somebody tell you there’s loads of other people experiencing the same thing helps.
‘For a lot of people, it’ll be a real lifeline - it’s a great service.
‘They’re brilliant - you can just dial into a Zoom meeting or telephone call. It’s fantastic as it means you can still sit at your desk, just pick up the phone if you’re anxious or worried about something.’
Long Covid Clinics
The Long Covid clinics were developed by a group of people including Susanna Preedy, deputy director for Allied Health Professionals for Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust.
Susanna has confirmed that funding for the Long Covid clinics has now been extended so that they can continue to offer support to sufferers.
She said: ‘The initial pot we got came centrally, so the government announced back in November that there would be a pot of money for Long Covid clinics and that would run until the end of March.
‘We have now been told that there will be funding for next year as well.
‘We’re really pleased - there’s a real need out there for the patients.’
‘There are a number of conditions or symptoms that people are experiencing with Long Covid, and the clinics will really help. People can reach out for support if they need it.’
Karen West is lead allied health professional for Long Covid in the South East of Hampshire.
She talks to patients about their symptoms before developing a plan to help them in their recovery.
Karen, who is from Havant, said: ‘When the patients come to us they have the opportunity just to talk, to tell their Covid story, how it’s been - it’s a really powerful thing and patients really value that.
‘You see a burden lifting from their faces as they talk about it - realising that they’re not alone and other people have symptoms like them, and someone believes them.’
Karen, who has been a physiotherapist for 32 years, says that she thinks it is ‘really good news’ that the funding can continue.
She added: ‘The numbers are still going down which is really good news, but people are still getting the illness.
‘Some of them will have symptoms that last for months, so it’s really positive that the funding can continue.’
The service is available by GP referral only and is available to anyone still experiencing Covid-19 symptoms for more than 12 weeks.
Anyone experiencing symptoms of Long Covid can visit www.yourcovidrecovery.nhs.uk/.