82% increase in demand for occupational therapy-led rehabilitation services in the UK

As the public ditch their masks and the publication of Covid data becomes less frequent, for the hundreds of thousands of people in the UK now living with long Covid, the virus is not over for them.

In a recent evidence session to UK MPs the Governor of the Bank of England warned of the UK’s ‘Sick’ Economy Hit by Rising Prices & Ill Health of Workers .

Andrew Bailey told MPs that he had not expected such a sudden drop in the UK workforce due to ill health.

“The persistence and scale of this drop has been a surprise to us. We have seen an increase in long-term sickness in that number of about 320,000 people.”

Already overstretched, rehabilitation services have seen demand rocket over the past two years due to the COVID pandemic and are now seeing a further rapid increase in patients. A survey by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) has found that its members have seen an 82% increase in demand for occupational therapy-led rehabilitation services in the UK over the last six months alone. The findings raise questions about the prospects of providing timely rehabilitation, for people recovering from short and long term illnesses, and need urgent support to live independently carry out their daily lives.

RCOT Director of Practice and Innovation, Karin Orman said:

“It’s clear from this survey that rehabilitation services across the UK are overloaded, with the vast majority of occupational therapists seeing a huge increase in demand and complexity of their caseload over the last six months alone. This simply isn’t sustainable and there isn’t a big enough workforce to currently meet demand.”

The survey, which over 550 occupational therapists working across the UK took part in, found that:

  • 84% are supporting people whose needs have become more complex due to delayed interventions arising from the pandemic
  • 82% of respondents noted increased demand for occupational therapy-led rehabilitation over the previous six months.
  • 71% of respondents felt there were not enough occupational therapists to meet demand.
  • 66% of respondents reported difficulties in delivering rehabilitation services due to reduced access to facilities, suitable space and equipment.
  • 50% are supporting people affected by Long Covid.

The percentage of respondents in each UK nation were England (80.6%), Scotland (9.8%), Wales (6.6%) and Northern Ireland (1.4%). More than three quarters of respondents (77.5%) were working in NHS roles (community or acute service focused) with the remainder working with local authorities or in independent/private practice.

Layla Moran MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said:

“These new findings clearly show that the long-term impacts of the virus, including Long Covid, are exacerbating many of the challenges that occupational therapists are facing both in the NHS and beyond.

“Healthcare professionals are bearing the brunt of UK Government inaction and as long as Ministers bury their heads in the sand and refuse to address the growing Long Covid crisis, our economy and essential services will be under even greater strain. They must commit more money for research and funding, and recognise the condition as an occupational disease.”

Funding Support for Long Covid in Scotland

The Scottish Government has committed an initial tranche of £3 million to improve the care and support available for people with long COVID.

In consultation with local Health Boards in Scotland the £3 million will be used to introduce care co-ordinator roles, extra resources to support a patient-centred assessment, including a multi-disciplinary assessment service, and additional capacity for community rehabilitation to support people with issues affecting their day-to-day quality of life.

NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) has also been awarded £370,000 to support a national programme of improvement work led by the National Strategic Network – this includes £200,000 to provide digital tools to support the care of people with long COVID. The network will also provide an analysis of the specific needs of children and young people living with long COVID in Scotland.

Linda Currie, NHS Highland Associate AHP Director, said:

“The funding allocation is welcomed. Self-management will be offered and we will recruit Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy to support holistic interventions like fatigue management, vocational rehab, goal planning and dysfunctional breathing. This funding will support coordination of care across the relevant clinical teams and our partners.”

Scottish Government Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, said:

“We’ve engaged directly with NHS Boards, alongside clinical experts and those with lived experience, to identify the support that they need. This will help ensure the investment through our £10 million long COVID support fund will make the biggest different to people living with long COVID.

“Given the range of symptoms which can be involved, we know there’s no ‘one-size fits all’ response and our approach is to support people with long COVID to access care and support in a setting that is appropriate and as close to their home as practicable.

“It’s for each board to explore what is the best service they can provide, this can include a Long COVID Clinic if they believe that is the best model to adopt – and today’s funding will help boards to bolster existing provision for those with long COVID. ”

For some people, coronavirus (COVID-19) can cause symptoms that last weeks or months after the infection has gone. This is sometimes called post-COVID-19 syndrome or “long COVID”. Find out more here: Long-term effects of coronavirus (long COVID

The results of the Royal Collection of Occupational Therapists survey for the UK can be found here:

Fiona Grahame

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