31 July 2023

A team of RCSLT expert advisers have recently published the largest, prospective, observational study yet to be carried out on adults hospitalised by COVID-19

 The post-hospitalisation COVID-19 (PHOSP-COVID) study, published in BMJ Open Respiratory, provides strong evidence that swallowing, voice, communication and cognitive communication needs are prevalent in people with long COVID. 

Since early 2020, we have been hearing from members who have observed swallowing, voice, communication and cognitive communication symptoms in their caseload. As a result, we carried out a survey in 2021 to better understand these needs and the impact this was having on speech and language therapy services. The data published in 2022 highlighted that across the UK, SLTs were seeing people with a range of communication and swallowing needs linked to COVID-19 and that meeting these people’s needs within existing resource constraints was placing a great strain on speech and language therapy services. However, until now we have not had any robust research that would allow us to accurately pinpoint the scale of these issues.  

PHOSP-COVID is a large, UK-wide study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and led by a consortium of experts based in Leicester and with collaborations around the world. In one of these collaborations, a team led by Dr. Camilla Dawson on behalf of the RCSLT, has carried out a thorough analysis of the data and the findings are stark. 

The research identifies that: 

  • 70% of patients reported cognitive communication needs (also known as “brain-fog”). 
  • 34% of patients who received support in an intensive care unit reported voice problems and 20% reported swallowing difficulties.   
  • 23% of patients hospitalised in any way by COVID-19 reported issues with communication.  

Dr Camilla Dawson said: “The results from this ground-breaking study are startling and clearly demonstrate that a whole systems approach is required to respond to emerging clinical needs. Chronic underfunding has resulted in crisis level speech and language therapy provision across the UK meaning people aren’t getting the expert rehabilitation to speak, communicate, process information, eat, drink and swallow. Without urgent action vulnerable people with complex needs post COVID-19 will continue to be unable to access the treatment they need to function in society and this is unacceptable.”  

Based upon these results, alongside other research in this area, the RCSLT will be working with national bodies to influence better recognition in national policies and guidelines in order to support appropriate planning and funding of health services across the UK.