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12 May 2021

New walking test helps patients recover better and faster

People recovering from COVID are being offered a new walking test, as part of their rehabilitation.

Thanks to a new walking test, patients with chronic respiratory conditions are now having a faster and better recovery

The test has recently been introduced at Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT). It is predominantly used for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but in the past few weeks, it has been used for post-COVID patients too.

It allows physiotherapists to gain a precise and accurate measurement of a patient’s fitness and ability – allowing them to prescribe an exercise plan, which will meet a person’s specific and individual needs. The result is that patients with chronic respiratory conditions have a faster and better recovery.

The incremental shuttle walking test is new to the pulmonary rehabilitation service at KCHFT. It is considered to be best practice and is in line with British Thoracic Society guidelines.

It’s introduction aimed for more than 58 per cent of patients to see an improvement in their exercise capacity, following a six-week programme with the trust. However, more than 70 per cent of patients have seen an improvement.

Di Robbins, 66, from Greenhithe, who was recently diagnosed with COPD, completed a six-week programme, with her regime based on results of the new test and other health and wellbeing measurements taken by the team.

She said: “It’s been brilliant. What was prescribed was just right for me. The team helped me to understand what I should be doing and how much of it I should do, to get fitter and improve muscle. I’ve been using dumb bells, which is something I would never have thought of.”

Kate Savage, clinical lead physiotherapist who has led the project, said: “We are getting much better results now. Patients are improving more than before, because we can now accurately prescribe what exercise they should be taking. “Evidencing the improvement patients are making, linked to their daily living and quality of life, provides additional motivation for them and their carers to engage with rehabilitation. It also provides job satisfaction for our staff.

“With long Covid patients, we’ve only had a handful through as yet, the majority of our results are for our standard Pulmonary Rehabilitation service for patients with chronic respiratory conditions.”

The test is similar to a bleep test, but is at a slower, walking pace. The patient walks for as long as they can until they are either too breathless or can no longer keep up with the beeps, at which time the test ends. The number of shuttles is recorded. The walking test means a person’s fitness, health improvement and ability can be measured and recorded.

The test was first introduced 18 months ago and ran until March 2020, when it was paused as a result of the pandemic and when virtual consultations and assessments took place. Face-to-face tests resumed in October 2020, in a Covid-secure way.

The service is now exceeding the national average for the percentage of patients who demonstrate an improvement in their exercise tolerance following a course of pulmonary rehabilitation. The national average is 60 per cent. The KCHFT average is 70 per cent.

Kate said: “The project led to efficiency, due to the shorter time needed to conduct the incremental shuttle walk test. This should help to reduce waiting times for patients accessing the service.” The project was run using quality improvement (QI) methodology and tools. QI is used by healthcare trusts worldwide. QI is about looking at better ways of doing things and making change happen.

shuttle walking test with patient Di Robbins
Patient Di Robbins undertakes the new walking test
Patient Carol Holt is put through her paces, watched by KCHFT’s Kate Savage