PATIENTS recovering from Covid are being helped by a small group of specialist therapists at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Ella Vickers, a Speech and Language therapist in the Trust’s Speech and Language Therapy team, is helping Intensive Care patients, including those with Covid-19, to be able to swallow food and drink once they have been taken off ventilation and begin the slow journey to recovery.
Ella, who has worked for the Trust for two and a half years, said: “We are a small team trying to meet an ever-growing demand across both Blackpool Victoria and Clifton Hospitals.
“Many Intensive Care patients require ventilation. This can be done via an endotracheal tube, or a tracheostomy. Both procedures can lead to problems communicating and swallowing and it often takes months to fully recover.
“Severe swallowing problems can prolong a person’s stay in hospital or at worst lead to a life threatening pneumonia which people whose respiratory systems are already comprised can be fatal.
“As well as helping patients to swallow it is also my job to support patients with their ability to communicate. This may be through other means such as writing, apps, picture charts or speech. All this is done through layers of PPE, which although a crucial tool to keep us safe, can be a significant barrier for communication.
Intensive Care patients are at possibly the lowest point in their entire lives with both life and death in close reach. The Speech and Therapy team are a part of this delicate time in patients’ lives and introduce one of the few pleasures available in ICU, food and drink.
Ella said: “Those who are not too delirious express how grateful they are to trial their first drink or taste of food. The sense of sheer joy in such terrible times is clear from their faces, the sighs of relief and dropping of tense shoulders.
Early and regular input from Speech and Language Therapy can reduce length of stay by reducing delirium, reducing risk of aspiration pneumonia and reducing the length of time feeding tubes are required.
Chief executive of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, Kamini Gadhok MBE, said: “Throughout the pandemic, speech and language therapists across the UK have shown immense resilience as they work tirelessly alongside doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals on the NHS frontline in the fight against COVID-19.
“Using their unique mix of skills and knowledge, they provide invaluable support to COVID-19 patients, enabling them to learn to eat and drink safely and to speak or communicate again after being on ventilators in Intensive Care Units.
“During this unprecedented time, while many of our members work to rehabilitate COVID-19 patients, others continue to provide dedicated speech and language therapy to babies, children, young people and adults – face-to-face where it’s safe to do so or using tele-therapy where that’s just not possible. I’m so incredibly proud of all that they are doing to support the public in these challenging times.”
Ella added: “My Speech and Language Therapy colleagues and I work as part of the multidisciplinary team caring for our patients.
“For each patient we aim to improve their quality of life. Imagine struggling to communicate your thoughts and feelings to total strangers whilst isolated from family and friends in hospital. Imagine not being able to eat and drink.
“We are working hard to meet the demands, but despite current pressures, I still go home at the end of the day knowing I have made a difference to someone’s life and that makes everything worth it.”