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Innovative service helps COVID-19 patients on road to recovery

09 Jul 2020

Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke has established the first community support service for survivors of Covid-19.

The Covid-19 Recovery Service will help survivors deal with the physical and psychological problems caused by the illness and will assist them in building up their lung and general health on the long road to recuperation.

NICHS has wide experience in providing support and self-help resources to people affected by lung, heart and stroke conditions.

Pauline Millar, Head of Respiratory Services said: “People are suffering the physical effects as well as the mental fallout of having been through such a trauma. A lot of the public focus has been on the virus itself, but there now needs to be a focus on the recovery and long-term effects for those who have survived the illness.

“Despite a massive drop in public donations, NICHS is pushing ahead with providing this important service because we feel passionately about supporting and saving local lives.”

One of the first to benefit is Niall Murphy, the prominent solicitor who spent weeks on a ventilator after contracting the virus. He is still recovering slowly at home, many weeks after being discharged from hospital, and is unable to return to full-time work.

He said: ““I was in a coma for 16 days and was given a 50/50 chance of pulling through. I’m only now fully appreciating the danger I was in, but my wife and family had to deal with it in real time. I have a long period of recovery ahead, but I’m improving slowly.
I’m currently going through a breathing programme offered as part of Chest Heart and Stroke’s Covid recovery service and it has been a great support.”

Respiratory consultant Dr Paul McKeagney said: “I’ve been seeing Covid-19 patients throughout the pandemic, ranging from very mild cases to those with severe disease who have required a stay in ICU. In the recovery stage, breathlessness when walking is a particular issue. There are also other long-term effects, because the infection makes the blood stickier, leading to clots in the lungs and other organs.

“Having a support service like this is very useful because it gives people the resources they need for their recovery and enables them to self-manage their condition.”

NI Chest Heart and Stroke will initially provide the service by phone, video call and internet. When Covid-19 restrictions are sufficiently relaxed, and guidance safely permits, we will deliver face-to-face interactions.

“Since the start of this pandemic, we have been providing all our services remotely,” said Pauline Millar. “We have made more than 17,000 calls to people with chest, heart and stroke conditions across Northern Ireland. That equates to more than 279,000 minutes of advice and reassurance. Remote working is not ideal, but we have introduced a variety of resources, including exercise and breathing videos, to help people build up their lung capacity and heart health.”

An evaluation of this telephone support shows how important NICHS services are, as:

  • 98% of people said it enabled them to continue managing their health
  • 98% of people said they knew where to find help
  • 95% said they felt less anxious and lonely.

Covid-19 survivors can be referred to the recovery service in the first instance by a medical professional, or you can self-refer by emailing

<p>Pauline Millar (centre) Head of Respiratory Services at NICHS says the launch of this new service is driven by the charity's passion to support local lives. (Picture taken prior to COVID-19)</p>

Pauline Millar (centre) Head of Respiratory Services at NICHS says the launch of this new service is driven by the charity's passion to support local lives. (Picture taken prior to COVID-19)