World leader in COVID-19 ICU therapy

Physiotherapists around the world are using a NSW training program, developed and delivered by St George Hospital physiotherapist Wendy Chaseling (pictured), along with Dr Peter Thomas from The Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Queensland and Michelle Paton from Monash Health, Victoria, to up-skill therapists who treat COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

The Virtual Physiotherapy Cardiorespiratory Intensive care training was delivered to over 350 NSW Health physiotherapists on 28-29 March, in partnership with Health Education and Training Institute and Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA). Since then, as of 28 May 2020, a further 503 NSW physiotherapists have reviewed the training videos as well as 1771 other people from outside NSW and internationally.

Ms Chaseling, an APA Cardiorespiratory Physiotherapist, Member Australian College of Physiotherapists and Senior Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Physiotherapist, who has worked in the ICU at St George Hospital for 30 years, said the training was important so that clinicians are confident to treat COVID-19 patients and have a clear understanding of the international clinical practice recommendations.

“When St George Hospital’s first COVID-19 patient was put on a life-saving ventilator we relied on our experience and specialised knowledge to treat him, and now that knowledge has been used to train many more physiotherapists around the world,” Ms Chaseling said.

COVID-19 patients in ICU can experience complications such as stiff and partially collapsed lungs, severe lack of oxygen, a build-up of secretions in the lungs, profound muscle weakness and reduced mobility.

The critical care training included methods to improve patients’ respiratory performance by clearing lungs and airways, advising on positioning and weaning of patients while they are ventilated and implementing early mobilisation of the patient to prevent ongoing issues and functional decline.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the NSW Government has invested $34 million to build its own specialised workforce of physiotherapists and other allied health professionals providing vital ICU care.

“These highly skilled therapists play a critical role in the treatment of COVID-19 patients in the ICU, and their recovery after they are discharged, as many experience very challenging medical complications,” Minister Hazzard said.

“We should be extremely proud this innovative program has been picked up by physiotherapists in the UK and US, not unlike the way other countries have also followed the lead of NSW Health, embracing some of its containment measures.”

Wendy Chaseling