What speech and language therapists are doing to help rehabilitate COVID-19 patients
13th May 2020
One of the country’s leading speech and language therapists, who works for Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, tells us about her experiences rehabilitating patients recovering from coronavirus at London’s Nightingale Hospital.
Dr Jackie McRae, Director of Research and Enterprise for the School of Allied Health, Midwifery and Social Care in the joint Kingston and St George’s Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education, has worked in the speech and language therapy field for the NHS for more than 25 years.
She took the role at Nightingale Hospital to help patients recover normal everyday functions such as talking, eating, and drinking – which can be particularly affected due to the nature of the virus. “Part of the pattern with COVID-19 we’re learning is that the extreme coughing and breathing dysfunction people are suffering from is affecting the functions of the larynx. This means simple functions we take for granted are proving challenging for those who have contracted this disease,” said Dr McRae.
Recognising her excellence and vast experience in her field, Health Education England reached out to Dr McRae to help with the rehabilitation phase of COVID-19 alongside allied health professional chief Rachael Moses and other skilled professionals including dieticians, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and radiographers. This ensures every aspect of a patient’s recovery is met with the highest level of care. “It’s a multi-disciplinary approach. We use communication charts and have specialist, modified food, which is all part of us easing patients back into eating, drinking and normality before they return home,” Dr McRae said.
Patients are transferred from the intensive care unit to the step down ward, where rehabilitation can begin, Dr McRae has recruited and trained some of her new team, ensuring they have all the correct tools, equipment and food, creating educational material, picking up any issues with systems and processes, and looking out for any issues around patient wellbeing. She has also been consulting on the intensive care unit to ensure sedated patients get a high level of mouth care to preserve the lips and the tongue from damage due to tubing.
Dr McRae said the whole workforce feels like a family – which is especially important when many of them are staying in hotels, away from their own families. “I’m staying in on-site accommodation and there’s a really big focus on the wellbeing of the staff. Everything is provided for us, including food and drink, and it really helps us all pull together in this unfamiliar environment as everyone’s goal is to help save lives and get the patients back to their families as soon as possible,” she said.
Head of the School of Allied Health, Midwifery and Social Care at Kingston and St George’s, Professor Iain Beith, expressed his pride at three faculty staff members being called upon to help the national effort against coronavirus. “These appointments demonstrate the importance of academic input in creating an innovative and impressive undertaking as the Nightingale Hospital, and in providing high quality care to save lives and ensure those who do pull through get the rehabilitation they deserve to minimise the effect on the rest of their lives,” Professor Beith said.
Find out more about the Faculty of Heath, Social Care and Education at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London.