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Community rehab

Medical centre becomes world’s first to adopt new tech

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WelcoMe is helping make the vaccine rollout easier for disability patients

A medical centre has become the first in the world to adopt technology to alert them to a disabled person’s visit before they arrive, ensuring they are fully prepared for their arrival and can offer the best possible standards of customer service.

Charter Medical Centre in Hove has become the first of its kind to use the WelcoMe app, which makes use of pioneering technology to enable people with disabilities, including brain injuries and neurological conditions, to tell businesses and venues when they intend to visit their premises.

The app allows users to pre-warn businesses of any bespoke requirements they have, and also gives staff information about the person’s disability or condition, ensuring they are fully prepared for their arrival.

The installation of WelcoMe comes at a time when many disabled people have increased anxiety about leaving their homes amidst the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, with many doing so for the first time in many months to receive their vaccinations.

Through its adoption of WelcoME, Charter Medical Centre is building its additional support for patients living with long-term conditions even further, with the practice being a central part in the pioneering HERA (Healing Expressive and Recovery Arts) Project in Brighton.

The programme engages patients through creative arts and has delivered proven benefits in terms of easing pressure on NHS frontline resources, with an average 41 per cent reduction in the demand for GP appointments among those attending at least three HERA sessions.

The addition of a medical centre is a significant boost for the ongoing development of WelcoMe, which is rapidly expanding across England having secured clients including the Scottish Government and Diageo in its native Scotland.

Trials are planned in two Scottish hospitals as WelcoMe’s profile in the medical sector, and the profession’s commitment to embracing new technology to support patients, grows.

The app is the latest innovation from multi award-winning entrepreneur Gavin Neate, through his business Neatebox, which in 2011, created the world’s first disability-friendly pedestrian crossing. This later became a standalone business, Button, which enables users to press a range of buttons remotely, such as those to open automated doors.

“Even prior to the pandemic, it was common for patients to feel anxious about visiting the doctor, but with the isolation the pandemic has brought, we know that will have been exacerbated for many, and particularly those for whom their conditions means they have additional needs,” says Emma Drew, from the Robin Hood Health Foundation, which incorporates Charter Medical Centre as part of its portfolio.

“As lovely as our GPs and receptionists are, we are aware that anxiety exists, and we will always do everything we can to ensure our patients receive the best possible service we can give.

“Anything that enables people to come into our practice and be supported in the ways they need is very important to us. If someone has mobility problems, for example, and there is something we can do in advance of their arrival to help them, then we will do that.

“Through our adoption of WelcoMe, we will now be able to know about that, and be prepared before they walk through the door. We are proud to do things differently here, and we’re really pleased to be able to introduce this app to our patients.

“I think WelcoMe is something which, if it works in one practice, it’ll be adopted by many more, and it’s great to be at the forefront of that.”

Gavin Neate, whose inventions are inspired by his 18 years as a mobility instructor with Guide Dogs for the Blind, tells NR Times: “To add Charter Medical Centre to our partners really underlines the amazing potential there is for in-the-moment visitor-led and empowering interactions.

“Trials are also underway with The Golden Jubiliee Hospital in Glasgow and shortly Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.

“We are proving it is possible to provide real time staff awareness of need, whilst reducing arrival anxiety in disabled visitors.”

Community rehab

‘SLT took on even greater importance during lockdown’

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“It’s a balance between reducing contact to keep people safe, and maintaining contact to keep people safe."

Through community speech and language therapy continuing even during the height of lockdown, many patients received a “massive boost” from the progress being made in regaining or maintaining their communication and swallowing abilities.

While many therapies were stopped or conducted remotely, speech and language therapy (SLT) continued in-person throughout the pandemic, supporting people in their recovery from brain injury or stroke, as well as working with those with progressive neurological conditions.

“With there being a complete hold on a lot of NHS therapy during the first lockdown, speech and language therapy was very important to so many people, so to be able to progress in that area was a massive boost during a difficult time,” says speech and language therapist Jennifer Benson.

“For many patients I saw, they felt that there was so much focus on COVID they had been forgotten – but to have a voice is such a fundamental part of life, and for a lot of patients, particularly those with progressive conditions, it can’t wait.

“It’s a privilege to be able to support people with this, but particularly to be there for them during the most trying times.”

The continued intervention of SLT during lockdown helped many patients significantly – but for therapists, their role was frequently, and unexpectedly, expanded with the cancellation of many other community services.

“We were finding we’d be going to people’s houses and our role was broadening, we’d need a double appointment to help get through the other issues they had and trying to offer support,” says Jennifer, who worked in both private and NHS roles across Yorkshire and Lincolnshire during the pandemic.

“As speech and language therapists, we are very clear on our role boundaries, and we’re very keen to work with our MDT colleagues, but during those times we had to become used to dealing with things like recognising when a person needed end of life care, and supporting families when GPs weren’t coming out to see them.

Jennifer Benson – speech and language therapist

“One case that really stands out was one gentleman with some early signs of Parkinson’s, he’d had a telephone appointment with a neurologist but nothing else.

“He’d then had a repeat prescription from his GP with some Parkinson’s medication on it. He queried it, saying this isn’t mine, but then got an email telling him he had Parkinson’s disease. He and his wife were in total shock.

“In ordinary times, there would be Parkinson’s nurses visiting to pick up on that, but in the absence of face to face appointments, SLTs were in a position of needing to offer more support and information about Parkinson’s in general. We know our stuff and we’re good at explaining things simply to people, so it was a natural extension of our skills.”

Against a constantly-changing situation during the pandemic, assessing the need for visits against the safety factor of not doing so, was a fine balance.

“All through the pandemic, face to face appointments have been risk assessed, and SLTs all over the country have risen to the challenge of using teletherapy when this has been the safer option,” says Jennifer.

“It’s a balance between reducing contact to keep people safe, and maintaining contact to keep people safe.

“Very often our swallowing assessments and interventions would be helping to prevent a hospital admission, so we were also doing our bit to keep people at home and prevent more strain on the hospital system, and keeping them out of the way of potentially catching COVID in hospital too.”

Jennifer, who has more than 20 years’ experience in the field, continued her appointments using PPE for the benefit of the patients who needed her.

“I became used to wearing a surgical face mask, plastic pinny and gloves, even though the mask made communication so much more difficult. I had a boot full of this equipment and many a day had to battle the North Sea wind while putting my pinny on!,” Jennifer recalls.

“But it was all such an unknown, and people were needing to be seen more than ever, very often I was all they had, so you just get on with it.

“It was only when I got my first vaccine that I realised what a relief it was. Working in the community, you rely on people reporting symptoms and of course many cases are asymptomatic. You have to hope your PPE really does keep you and everyone else safe.

“There were care homes I was in which had outbreaks two days later, and you maybe do think about your own safety, but I think it’s only on reflection you realise how anxiety-provoking it really was.

“I’m very pleased I have so many years of experience, I’ve seen a lot of things, so that helped me to get through that time – for those who were new to it, it must have been very hard.”

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Community rehab

Music group launched to support BAME community

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Leicester Musical Memory Box is launching its online music project Geet Sangeet

A music group established to support people living with dementia, memory loss and brain injury has received funding to launch an online project for the South Asian and BAME community.

Leicester Musical Memory Box (LMMBox) was founded in July 2018, and since that time has grown from one group in the city to six, providing interactive music sessions for people of all ages and backgrounds, including a group specific to the South Asian community.

The group – which has two staff members who are fluent in Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu – aims to provide the local community with a supportive network and a safe space to explore the unique challenges that a brain injury may bring to individuals, as well as their families and carers.

The new online music project is named ‘Geet Sangeet’ – translated as ‘Songs Sung Together’ – and will incorporate music and cultural references specific to the South Asian community, led by group leader Beena Masand from LMMBox.

Each session will begin with gentle exercises to warm up the body and brain, followed by singing and discussion about various music, songs, and media.

Attendees will also receive their own ‘musical memory box’ in a bag to help increase the interactivity of the sessions.

The project has received funding from the new Local Connections Fund, and is in collaboration with Headway Leicester.

Music has proven benefits for people with memory problems or a brain injury, including enabling people to connect with past experience and enabling freedom of expression, confidence and independence.

Attendance at the groups also helps to improve mood and reduce feelings of social isolation.

“We know we are providing a vital service to our members and receive enquiries regularly,” says Kyle Newman, group leader and co-director of LMMBox.

“In spite of the lockdown, we are thrilled to be able to once again provide a culturally specific group for the South Asian community.

“We also know that the group leader needs to come from that community and have the music and cultural knowledge to be able to engage participants effectively.”

“We are delighted to collaborate with LMMBox and reach out to more people across Leicester who have been affected by brain injury,” adds Mary Goulty, service manager at Headway Leicester.

“There is a clear need for a support service within the BAME community and that’s why we launched our BAME group last year, which is providing a vital lifeline to brain injury survivors we support and their families.”

To contact LMMBox, visit www.leicestermusicalmemorybox.co.uk

For support with brain injury in the Leicester community, visit www.headwayleicester.org.uk.

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Community rehab

‘Huge positive progress – but change still needs to happen’

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Susan Pattison - founder of SP Therapy Services

Having set up in private practice 22 years ago, SP Therapy Services has watched a burgeoning sector grow around it. Here, founder Susan Pattison shares her views on its progress, and why community rehab has an ever-increasing role to play.

“We’re no longer a child who is complaining without a strong voice – we’ve grown up into the teenager who can articulate themselves.”

Susan Pattison’s analogy of the specialist neuro sector is an interesting one.

From setting up in business in the very early days of development for private practice 22 years ago, she has watched a thriving industry grow up around her.

“When I first set up in business, it was said many times I was like gold dust,” she recalls.

“Setting up on your own wasn’t common at all, particularly as a neurophysiotherapist. At that time, physio was about sprained ankles, not complex brain injury cases.

“When I was in my previous job, I was discharging people home to nothing, which is why I wanted to set up in business. I never set out to be a business woman, I just wanted to do right by my patients.

“I still remember my husband and family shaking their heads and saying I had six months to make a go of it, it was not widely done at all. It was a risk.”

As a trailblazer for private practitioners, Susan has gone on to build a thriving neurological physiotherapy and occupational therapy business, SP Therapy Services.

From its base in Bury, its nine-strong team covers Cheshire, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, South and West Yorkshire, supporting patients in both clinical and home settings.

“Now, it feels like my business is just a little goldfish in a huge pond, it’s a long way from the early days but these are actually really exciting times,” says Susan.

“We have grown up as a community and are making a lot of noise in the right ways. We have UKABIF banging on Parliament’s doors, helping to make neurorehab a hot topic, we’ve got BABICM setting standards for brain injury case managers, we’ve got Headway with their list of solicitors – and everyone is working together to move forward.

“I think the private sector has now come up and is a beacon of light for the NHS, we respond to the need and are there in support.

“A huge amount has changed over the past 22 years, and it is still changing. We have to continue to change, to work hard and progress together.”

And that need for ongoing change is something Susan feels passionately about – particularly the need for investment in community rehab, to support the work of the NHS post-discharge.

“If we are going to invest in saving a life, then we need to ensure a quality of life for that person. These people need rehab to have that,” she says.

“We can’t keep front-ending and need to invest in the longer-term care once they are discharged into the community. Rehabilitation has to happen in people’s communities as that’s where they live their lives.

“But investment in community rehab can’t be seen as a luxury, or something that is nice to have. It’s absolutely critical to people and families being allowed to rebuild their lives.

“With the impact of the pandemic, hospital waiting lists are going through the roof, and that is going to be pushed out into the community.

“But with such a strong private sector now, which has grown from the child into the teenager, as I put it, the support is there, it’s in place. And we’ll keep being that beacon for community rehab, continuing to call for the investment is needs.”

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