Two members of staff at the Newcastle Hospitals had a lovely surprise this morning when they received a personal call of thanks from the Duke of Cambridge.
Today’s call personally thanked staff nurse Maria Wafer and consultant psychologist Dr Victoria Miller on behalf of the team which set up one of the first specialist long COVID clinics in the UK to help manage people with long term symptoms.
The Duke of Cambridge heard how, as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, respiratory clinicians realised that patients discharged from hospital after COVID were talking longer to recover than expected. Patients can experience brain fog, anxiety, depression, breathlessness, fatigue and other debilitating symptoms, despite having recovered from the virus.
Clinicians were learning as much as they could about the virus and were keen to ensure all reported symptoms could be understood, so that those affected could receive all the support they needed.
One stop clinic
Newcastle’s experts felt the best approach was to develop a one-stop clinic where patients would see a specialist focusing on each symptom. Known as a multi disciplinary team approach, the clinic involves a respiratory physician, a physiotherapist and a clinical psychologist all supported by a team of respiratory nurses with expertise in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
The clinics began in the summer of 2020 and since this time the teams have been able to support and reassure scores of patients whose feedback has been extremely positive.
Dr Graham Burns, consultant respiratory physician and long COVID clinic lead said he was delighted to see Maria and Victoria’s dedication recognised in this way.
“Maria has worked at the RVI’s Chest Clinic for 20 years and was integral to the successful set up of the clinic structure”, explains Dr Burns.
“The clinic had to be designed in a way that allowed a large number of patients to be seen by a range of health care professionals in a COVID safe way. Its structure was complex, unlike anything ever conducted before in an outpatient department, but Maria understood what needed to be done. She rolled up her sleeves and just got on with it.”
In the tightly choreographed clinic, time pressure was significant but Maria worked without complaint seeing every single patient who came to clinic.
Gentle and genuinely caring approach
“Maria deserves credit for all of this but what is most impressive is the way she interacts with every single patient”, added Dr Burns. “Her gentle and genuinely caring approach is just what our patients need at a time in their lives when they feel particularly anxious and vulnerable.”
When consultant psychologist Dr Victoria Miller heard about the clinic she immediately understood the need and eagerly joined the team. What the service demanded of her was very different to her normal clinic practice.
Dr Burns explains, “It was simply not possible to afford every patient a lengthy and relaxed discussion exploring psychological issues. Victoria had to be innovative in what she was able to offer and so with a carefully designed set of questionnaires sent out ahead of clinic, and a brief face to face review in clinic, she managed to run an incredibly effective and supportive service.
“For many patients that short interaction with Victoria and her sage advice was enough. For others, who she identified as needing more complex support, she arranged specialist follow up in her own clinic.”
Both Maria and Victoria were delighted with their surprise call and graciously attribute their successful involvement in the clinic to great Northern spirit and teamwork with supportive colleagues who have a collective desire to provide patients with the best care possible.