23 June 2022

Although many service users with long COVID would benefit from speech and language therapy, SLTs are being overlooked as having a part to play. SLTs Sophie Chalmers and Fiona Gillies reflect on their work in long COVID rehabilitation and show that SLTs have all the transferable skills needed to work in this area.

Blending knowledge

Sophie Chalmers leads the speech and language therapy pathway for the long COVID multidisciplinary team (MDT) in the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust. In the service, 50% of individuals have voice change and a third have two or more speech and language therapy needs (eg swallowing, communication, and throat hypersensitivity). Almost all service users have coexisting breathlessness/fatigue impacting their breathing and communication.

Intervention for long COVID symptoms requires an innovative holistic approach, which means drawing on a range of clinical areas. When working with service users, Sophie takes knowledge from areas such as voice, swallowing, communication, neurology, respiratory, post-critical care, throat hypersensitivity and psychology – to name just a few.

Talking about the role, Sophie says: “I am blending knowledge acquired in previous roles to provide physical, emotional, and social support to individuals. More than ever, peer support, continuing professional development (CPD), evaluation and reflection are a priority. This is the bedrock for anyone working in this field.”

Learning and re-learning

At the Whittington Health NHS Trust in London, Fiona Gillies works as a highly specialist SLT in ENT/voice. For Fiona, empowerment and fatigue epitomise working in long COVID rehabilitation – both for patients and clinicians.

Fiona says: “Every day brings something new and unexpected. I’m compelled to consider how established knowledge can be re-applied to this condition. It’s therapy, but not as we know it. And rapid learning, albeit re-learning sometimes for patients with breathing disorders, can be exhausting.

“Yet, I have never felt more empowered as an SLT. This profession is not just a job. Advocating for and supporting communication/swallowing and airways disorders in long COVID is the unique role that SLTs play. I’m proud to play my part.”

If you would like to know more about how your skills can help in the treatment of long COVID, email the RCSLT’s long COVID project officer, Emma Webber: emma.webber@rcslt.org.

Speech and language therapy post-COVID

Earlier this year we published two reports on the role of SLTs in post-COVID syndrome and the sustained impact of COVID-19 on services in the UK. These offer clear recommendations to improve support to people with long COVID or post-COVID syndrome and reveal the wider impact of the pandemic on speech and language therapy services.

For the latest guidance and information and to read all our COVID reports, visit our COVID-19 hub.

With thanks to Sophie Chalmers and Fiona Gillies