New £296k study launched to better support long-COVID patients

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Chinese coronavirus COVID-19 under the microscope. 3d illustration

A new study co-led by the University of Stirling will explore rehabilitation options for people suffering from long-COVID and recommend how best to maximise recovery and quality of life. 

Experts from the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport will lead the £296,000 project – funded by the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist Office – alongside counterparts from Robert Gordon University.

They will examine various models of community rehabilitation delivered by physiotherapists, occupational therapists and other health professionals to understand the best options for long-COVID patients. 

Dr Eddie Duncan, Associate Professor of Applied Health Research at the University of Stirling, is a Principal Investigator on the new project. He said: “There are many possible symptoms following a COVID-19 infection, from breathing difficulties to extreme fatigue and mental health problems. How long it takes to recover from COVID-19 is different for everybody – some symptoms can last weeks or even months after infection.  

“The chances of experiencing long-term symptoms do not appear to be linked to how ill someone was when the infection took place. People who had mild symptoms initially can still have long-term problems. Some people will need rehabilitation to support and maximise their recovery. At present, we do not know how best to support recovery from long-COVID and different health boards are providing rehabilitation in different ways. Our study aims to discover what works best for people across Scotland.”

Photograph of Dr Edward Duncan - he is pictured wearing a blue shirt, smiling and looking straight to camera. The photo has been taken outside, and there are trees in the background  

Dr Eddie Duncan, Associate Professor of Applied Health Research

For most people with COVID-19, their symptoms resolve within around 12 weeks. However, for others, the symptoms last longer or they can develop new symptoms which can significantly impact their quality of life. Evidence is still emerging on the nature and extent of long-COVID and how best to manage it. 

Professor Kay Cooper, Clinical Professor of Allied Health Professions, of Robert Gordon University and NHS Grampian, is a Principal Investigator alongside Dr Duncan. She said: “Community rehabilitation for people with long-COVID is in its infancy, with service models developing and evolving as we learn more about the long-term consequences of COVID-19. A variety of models are being used in Scotland and this research will help us understand what works in different settings and contexts.   

“Rehabilitation services are pivotal to supporting people in their recovery. By assessing the various models being used, we can make evidence-based recommendations to maximise quality of life and recovery for people with long-COVID across Scotland through the most appropriate models of rehabilitation for service users’ circumstances.” 
The team will evaluate the delivery and outcomes of different service models currently being used in Scotland to identify which are more suitable for various patient groups under differing contexts. 

The research will be undertaken in four health boards across Scotland (NHS Ayrshire and Arran, Lanarkshire, Grampian and Tayside), but the research team will share emerging findings with all of the country’s health boards to inform evidence-based action plans that will improve local long-COVID community rehabilitation services. 

The cross-organisational research team also includes Dr Lyndsay Alexander and Dr Paul Swinton, of Robert Gordon University; Dr Jacqui Morris and Professor James Chalmers, of the University of Dundee; and Dr Jenny Preston from NHS Ayrshire and Arran.