Teenager returns to school thanks to pioneering post-COVID service

Posted on Friday 25th November 2022

A teenage girl has returned to school after receiving specialist treatment from the post-COVID service at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, the first service of its kind in the UK.

Molly Potts, 14, from Woking, caught COVID-19 in September 2021. Suffering from severe dizziness and fatigue, Molly spent eight weeks in bed and was unable to go to school.

After her initial symptoms did not improve, Molly was referred to the post-COVID service at Evelina London Children’s Hospital in March 2022.

Molly’s mum, Debbie Potts, said: “Molly caught COVID-19 just as she returned to school to start Year 9. She was extremely tired and unable to get out of bed, which was very unlike her as she was an active teenager who enjoys sport. After a few weeks when her symptoms didn’t get any better, I started to worry that she might have Long COVID.

“When Molly was referred to the post-COVID service at Evelina London, it was a great reassurance to know that she was going to get some help as it was affecting all of her normal, daily routine. Molly used to love taking part in sports such as paddle boarding, but she was suddenly unable to even walk to the bottom of the garden unaided.”

Launched in October 2021, Evelina London Children’s Hospital co-leads the pan-London post-COVID-19 assessment service with University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust - the first of its kind in the UK.

The assessment service reviews children and young people across London and south east England who are suffering with ongoing symptoms of long COVID. It determines what evidence-based treatment might best benefit patients, and provides ongoing support to local healthcare teams to deliver that treatment for them. Children and young people with the most severe symptoms are seen at an in-person clinic at either Evelina London Children’s Hospital or University College Hospital for specialist support.

At Evelina London Children’s Hospital, the team offers a bespoke, one-stop-shop for children and young people with long COVID. The clinic provides specialist input from services including general paediatrics, psychiatry, psychology, dietetics, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy.

Molly attended the clinic with the full team for an initial assessment, then had five further sessions with different team members for expert support, and has recently been discharged from the service.

Molly’s mum, Debbie, said: “Molly received so much help from the team. She had a tailored physical activity programme to help build her strength back up; support with breathing exercises; personalised advice on sleep and diet; and psychological support on how to frame her illness and recovery. The team encouraged her to take charge of her own recovery, and worked on pacing herself. This was really helpful as she went away and created a schedule to minimise her risk of relapse by doing too much too soon.

“Prior to her initial consultation she had lots of tests and her local paediatrician picked up that she also had an undiagnosed rare heart defect, with a small hole in her heart. Molly was quickly referred to see the cardiology team at Royal Brompton Hospital and was able to have a small procedure to close the hole. It was great that she had such an in-depth assessment that this could be picked up and treated quickly.”

The team also provide schools with ongoing support around adapting lessons and activities for children and young people with ongoing symptoms and if they’re unable to attend in person. Additionally, they offer training and advice to local healthcare providers around raising awareness of the different symptoms of long COVID and treatment options.

Thanks to the treatment from the post-COVID service, Molly has been able to return to school full-time and is retaking her Year 9.

Dr Ronny Cheung, consultant general paediatrician and co-lead of the Post-COVID service at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, said: “We’re exceptionally proud of the post-COVID service that we have developed at Evelina London. We have looked closely at the specific and wide-ranging needs of this group of children and young people, and designed the service around them.”

Dr Ben Baig, consultant liaison child and adolescent psychiatrist and co-lead of the Post-COVID service at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, said: “Long COVID is a relatively new condition, and we’re still learning how it affects young people in many different ways. It’s really rewarding to see Molly being able to return to school and her normal activities, thanks to the help of the many different professionals that make up our team.”

The pan-London post-COVID-19 assessment service holds a weekly multidisciplinary team meeting to review children and young people who are referred into the service by a local paediatrician. Since launching last October, over 200 children and young people have been reviewed by the joint service.

The post-COVID service at Evelina London Children’s Hospital treats children and young people across south London, Kent, Surrey and Sussex, with ongoing symptoms following COVID-19.

Children’s services at Evelina London Children’s Hospital and Royal Brompton Hospital are part of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust’s children’s services