Community 12.06.20

New research and innovation unit to support Covid-19 rehabilitation set up at Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park

A new research and innovation unit to support people to recover and rehabilitate from Covid-19 is to be set up at Sheffield Hallam University’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre on Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park.

The unit, called RICOVR, aims to provide support through research and innovation to regional and national heath and care services who are supporting people directly and indirectly affected by COVID-19. The work of RICOVR seeks to address the long-term challenge of population health and wellbeing as the country recovers from the pandemic.

It will be located at the newly opened £14m Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC), a global centre for research and innovation in physical activity situated on Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park. The AWRC is dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of the population through innovations that help people move.

Across the Sheffield City Region, around 600 people have suffered acute Covid-19 symptoms requiring intensive care treatment. Thousands more have experienced milder symptoms but still require some form of recovery and rehabilitation support.

A further group of people living with long-term conditions who have not contracted Covid-19 will also need help. Their physical and mental health may have deteriorated due to extended periods of inactivity during the lockdown and cancelled hospital or GP appointments.

The RICOVR Unit will draw on academic expertise in various disciplines including behavioural science, engineering, the arts, software design, robotics and sport and exercise science to work alongside communities, the NHS and industry partners to produce scalable programmes and products to help people to recover physically, psychologically, socially and economically.

Work at the AWRC to support the recovery effort is already taking place across the region with the creation of the Active at Home booklet to support older and vulnerable people to remain active during lockdown. The guide has been delivered to 25,000 homes in Sheffield and Public Health England is reproducing the guide and delivering 250,000 to some of the most vulnerable people across the country.

The RICOVR unit will support the NHS and primary care through technology and innovations to help people to lead more active lives as well as providing evaluation, feedback and insight – enabling the effectiveness of rehabilitation programmes to be monitored.

Professor Robert Copeland, AWRC Director, said: “There is already a huge effort underway regionally and nationally to support and help rehabilitate people who have been affected directly or indirectly by Covid-19 – with services facing a significant increase in demand.

“We want to support that effort. The AWRC is uniquely placed to support existing services by providing the evidence of what works – and what doesn’t – so that the rehabilitation of people affected by Covid-19, goes beyond the recovery of physical function but instead optimises wellbeing and enhances quality of life.

“Through our networks and expertise, we can make a meaningful and sustainable difference to the physical and psychological health of people in our region and to support economic growth post-pandemic.”

The unit will also utilise the AWRC’s ongoing collaborations with industry-leading health and wellbeing companies including Westfield Health, EXOS and Go Fit – with access to expertise in rehabilitation, health and fitness and workplace wellbeing from around the world.

One of the thousands of people across Sheffield City Region who have experienced Covid-19 is Jeannie McGinnis. The 48-year-old classed herself as fit and healthy before she fell ill with coronavirus on 13 March. She is still suffering effects of the virus 90 days on.

Jeannie, originally from Texas, experienced moderate symptoms and wasn’t admitted to hospital but she continues to feel the impact of Covid-19. She contracted asthma, which she has never suffered from before, and continues to use an inhaler.

She continues to suffer lung and respiratory problems including what she calls the ‘Covid strangle’ when she wakes up with a feeling of pressure on her chest. She has also had laryngitis for almost 11 weeks.

Due to fatigue and low energy levels, Jeannie still needs to take a nap in the afternoon but often struggles to sleep due to chest and breathing problems and anxiety caused by those ongoing issues.

Jeannie is one of a growing number of people to suffer post viral effects – now thought to be around one in ten people who contract the virus.

She is keen speak to other people who have suffered ongoing symptoms and is part of an online support group in the UK and another group with members from 58 different countries.

Jeannie said: “What is difficult is that there is no cure, no definite course or path. Through my support group I have spoken to lots of people who were healthy, some very young, who have long-term complications.

“This has taught me I need to be so diligent and manage my health and my body. Some days taking the washing downstairs is too much. Simple, everyday tasks are sometimes impossible almost three months on.”

It has also had a significant impact on her mental health and she has sought help from a counsellor.

Jeannie added: “I have a great support system but it has still taken an incredible toll on me. I have spoken to people who feel like they have PTSD – it’s a traumatic event. You feel unsafe in your own body.

“It’s like snakes and ladders – you are so up and down. Some days are better than others but the improvements are more gradual – it is more on a week-to-week basis.

“It’s clear that this is having a significant, long-term impact on some people who would have been considered low risk and there will be an extended recovery period for those people. Extra support and expertise to aid that recovery – like the work of this new unit – can only be a good thing.”

Mayor of the Sheffield City Region Dan Jarvis said: “The AWRC is a world-leading research centre and an exceptional asset for Sheffield and the wider region. The new unit will be at the forefront of helping people rehabilitate from Covid-19 and in doing so, will become a national leader on research into recovery from the virus.

“Our region has world-class facilities and the AWRC is the best place for innovative research. RICOVR, and Sheffield Hallam University as a whole, will be crucial as we emerge from the Coronavirus. Our anchor institutions have a vital role to play as part of our economic recovery from the virus. I am determined we pull through the pandemic as quickly as possible and build a stronger, fairer future for South Yorkshire.”

David Capper, CEO of Westfield Health, said: “Westfield Health and the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre have a well-established shared vision to improve the long-term health and wellbeing of the population. As the country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, this vision has never been more important.

“We know that wellbeing has the potential not just to help individuals recover physically and psychologically from the divisive effects of Covid-19, but also to help businesses recover, bridge divides and get back to productivity as soon as possible.

“That’s why we’re proud to be supporting the establishment of the RICOVR unit at the AWRC, combining their academic expertise with our focus on understanding how businesses can harness wellbeing during this return to work period.

“Together, we hope to bring about significant, sustainable change that will help people across the country lead longer, healthier and happier lives.”