Guest blog: Long-COVID and how clubs are allocating members to the right service pathways

by Rachel Stokes on June 18, 2021

Mel Spooner, Managing Director of CAWS®, which creates fitness-specific content and courses, explains how …

After a year that none of us could have predicted and few of us will forget, many in the leisure industry are left wondering what next. Now the first 12 months of the pandemic are behind us we’re realising that, in many cases, the real challenge of dealing with COVID-19 comes after the initial symptoms have passed. The prevalence of Long-COVID is such that global health organisations are establishing a list of symptomatic criteria to define it as a diagnosable syndrome.

Key symptoms include debilitating levels of post-viral fatigue, issues with restoration of affected tissues and of course the psychological impact. A significant aspect of effective recovery is managing the pace of rehabilitation and return to daily life, as well as being more physically active. That’s extremely difficult for an individual to self-manage but the fitness industry, in particular exercise referral services, are uniquely placed to help those who’ve been left to deal with deconditioning, post-viral fatigue and long-term health issues post COVID.

This is what led Dr Colin Robertson and I to create CAWS® flagship training programme, Rebuild™ – teaching our industry to rehabilitate those recovering from acute COVID-19. Since January 2021, we’ve supported almost 500 fitness facilities and 3,500 fitness professionals to mobilise COVID-19 rehabilitation into their setting.

Our industry has a huge duty of care on this, not only to the members we already serve, but to newcomers seeking guidance in the wake of a COVID-19 experience. Together, we can provide the rehabilitation support required in every postcode across the UK. There’s no better way for our sector to recover than by providing a direct solution to the devastating effects the virus has had on our nation’s health.

Stroud District Council, which runs a healthy lifestyle scheme encompassing GP referral, cardiac, respiratory, falls prevention, Tai Chi for balance and wellbeing, and living with and beyond cancer, has recently trained several of its team with CAWS® and simultaneously begun using ReferAll’s management software. Hannah Drew, Health & Wellbeing Officer Community Services, says: “We have people presenting with Long-COVID and wanted to ensure our instructors had the knowledge to assist their recovery. We put everyone at our Dursley site plus anyone delivering GP referral and special conditions in community venues through CAWS® Rebuild™ training.

“The course highlighted a series of questions we should be asking patients returning to exercise, and we suggested ReferAll build these CAWS®-recommended questionnaires into its software. We felt it was very important we ask everyone the same questions, regardless of where they come into the system, so we get an accurate picture of Long-COVID’s effects and what other conditions patients may present with. With ReferAll, we can record all our consultation responses within the platform’s online questionnaire. We can ask everyone who’s referred, so we get an idea of who’s had COVID and what long-term effects they’re living with, and funnel them into the specific class.

“Having these questionnaires hosted within ReferAll means they’re secure, they’re accessible for everyone, and we can seamlessly transfer patents between schemes. Over time we’ll be able to report on the number of people coming to us with Long-COVID and profile what recovery looks like.”

CAWS_RA_Partnership ImageMoving forwards,CAWS® and ReferAll will collaborate to help other providers like Stroud to build a similar picture of the lasting effects of COVID in their communities and join the dots between Long-COVID and other conditions.

Right now, ReferAll’s customers are using the CAWS® screening questionnaire for new referrals coming into their services directly seeking COVID rehabilitation. The second phase of ReferAll’s development will be to integrate the CAWS® COVID-19 Initial Assessment Questionnaire into its software to streamline the initial consultation process for operators, and collate the information about referrals or self-referrals to their wellbeing programmes are presenting with.

Our long-term aim is to profile what Long-COVID looks like nationwide and how it’s entering our industry, and we’re working with ReferAll, our CAWS® Club Partners and a number of industry groups to establish what a universal reporting system needs to look like — for COVID and beyond.

Data, in time, will provide an evidence base for future funding by demonstrating the impact our sector is making and how many people we’re helping recover from the effects of the pandemic.

To find out more about CAWS® Rebuild™ programme visit, or email

To see how ReferAll can help you manage your healthy lifestyle schemes, including Long-COVID recovery, visit

Topics: Referral Schemes, Exercise Referral, Weight Management, COVID-19