'Getting better is definitely possible' - the lessons from Newcastle's pioneering Long Covid clinic

Assessment of Long Covid patient
Patients at Newcastle's Long Covid clinic are assessed before a rehabilitation programme is drawn up. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The consultant who established a pioneering Long Covid clinic in Newcastle has told ITV Tyne Tees that patients can recover from the condition, if they receive the right treatment.

Dr Graham Burns set up the unit in June 2020 to help people living with long term, debilitating symptoms, after contracting the virus.

At the time, virtually nothing was known about Long Covid.

People were reporting a variety of problems including breathlessness, tiredness and fatigue as well as difficulty concentrating.

As a result, the Newcastle team took the approach of treating patients' symptoms individually.

  • Helen Ford reports from inside the clinic.

Almost three years on, Dr Burns believes the results speak for themselves.

He explained: "If you address each and every one of them, you can make progress in those individual, very treatable components of the condition."

Dr Burns added: "Getting better is definitely possible and, in fact, with the right therapy, with the right support, it is highly likely.

"I think that's very good news about Long Covid."

A series of specialists assess different aspects of patients' health. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The clinic, based at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary, assesses new patients each week.

Among them, Samantha Lee, who suffered a severe Covid infection more than a year ago which forced her to spend two months in hospital, including a spell in intensive care.

Since then, she has received medical support but was still unsure about aspects of her recovery.

Coming to the Long Covid clinic has provided vital reassurance.

"The people like me that had it very badly and were hospitalised, not a lot of people understand what we have been through and how traumatic that can be."

She added: "To have people here that do understand that and can give you really good help is really great, it's really reassuring."

Members of the team examine many aspects of people's health to ensure they receive appropriate rehabilitation.

Experience over the last three years has shown that many are in a 'vicious circle' where they are unable to live active lives because of their symptoms, yet needing to become active in order to regain health and strength.

Breaking that cycle is key for physiotherapist Peter Trathen, who told us that he sees patients going from strength to strength.

"it's just about trying to work with each individual and trying to make sure that we can make them as strong as we can and as comfortable and as confident as they were previously."

Christina Blight says support from the Long Covid clinic team enabled her to take part in the Great North Run. Credit: Christina Blight

NHS worker Christina Blight has been on that journey.

She contracted Covid early in the pandemic, then struggled to regain her fitness as a result of long term symptoms.

She credits the clinic - and subsequent rehabilitation - with enabling her to take part in the Great North Run in September 2021.

Dr Graham Burns, who founded Newcastle's Long Covid clinic, says he is proud of what has been achieved. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The Newcastle Long Covid clinic helped to provide a template for a network of similar units which now operate around the country.

Now, Dr Graham Burns is retiring, passing responsibility for this clinic to his colleagues.

He says that demand remains high and regrets that the team cannot see patients more quickly.

He is, however, leaving the role proud of what has been achieved in terms of understanding Long Covid and improvements to lives blighted by the condition.