Stu’s Views: Overcoming challenges presented by COVID-19

by Stuart Stokes on May 7, 2021

Stu Stokes views on the new Office for Health PromotionLet’s face it, for most of us the pandemic has been one long challenge! And for the leisure sector in particular, repeated lockdowns and forced closures have left many wondering how the coming year will pan out.

For our readers running exercise and wellbeing referral schemes there has no doubt been a nose-dive in referrals since March 2020. In part this is because the national rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine takes priority for primary care professionals. It’s also likely because GPs are working around the clock to meet additional demand, caused by a year of chronic conditions going largely undetected.

So, the first challenge as I see it, now the UK leisure sector has reopened its doors, is ensuring improved footfall to your service. One way to manage this is to revisit your referral pathway; to ensure it’s as easy as possible to find and access your service. Why not consider implementing online referral forms and accepting self-referrals? For more info read our referral pathway blog.

While referral rates may be down, there’s no doubt that long-COVID will ultimately provide an opportunity to drive more referrals to our sector. The NHS has already put together a website called Your COVID Recovery; it’s realistic to expect there is going to be funding for a COVID rehab offering in the longer term and this will become a big driver for Exercise Referral Schemes.

But in reality, long-COVID programming won’t, for most providers, be delivered in the short term. And while some training is up and running online, such as CAWS Rebuild programme, staff won’t be fully experienced to deal with the raft of new respiratory symptoms they’re likely to encounter, although this will of course improve with time.

Currently, our sector tends to segregate our programming based on conditions. I wonder if there is opportunity for providers to combine programmes – or the delivery of programmes – to overcome this hurdle in the short term? For example, rather than having a cardiac rehab class, a pulmonary class and a COVID recovery class, could you offer one class that caters for all these conditions? It’s certainly a potential operational solution to help get programmes up and running, and accepting long-COVID patients more quickly.

And it’s a solution for helping ease the third immediate challenge I see for providers – hugely reduced capacity. As I discussed in my blog about the COVID bottleneck, there’s a serious case of ‘no room at the inn’ right now. Leisure operators are all struggling with capacity issues due to social distancing and so in turn providers are struggling to get access to leisure and community sites to execute their schemes.

In this instance, the solution for exercise referral services is, in many cases, already underway. By creating an adapted offer – a blended approach of telephone, text and email support alongside video exercise sessions, live online classes and even, as the year progresses, outdoor classes, your service can continue and capacity issues are eased.

ReferAll Communications Solution offers customers flexibility to record any type of digital session, send patient invites via text or email and offer bookings and online questionnaire completion via MyReferAll.

Royal London Borough of Kingston Exercise Referral Services are running very successful remote sessions, scheduling and making registers in ReferAll whilst and building a case to keep online exercise sessions going longer term, because they are so popular and getting great feedback. Programme lead, Nimalini Ajith, says:

“I have been pleasantly surprised by how many of our elderly population have taken to online exercise classes and opted to participate, rather than do nothing. They really need the service, many see it as a social outlet too – often they’re not seeing or meeting anyone all week.

“The family of one participant said to me: ‘The difference in Mum’s health and positivity is tremendous; I honestly don't know how we'd have got her to this point without your help. You have thrown the family a lifeline when we needed it most, and we are very very grateful’.”

ReferAll is here to help our providers demonstrate how swiftly you’ve adapted. Get in touch with me for a demo of ReferAll or a chat to discuss your service needs.

Warm regards,


Topics: Referral Schemes, Exercise Referral, COVID-19, Commissioner