THE FIRST Covid-19 rehabilitation programme of its kind in Wales, designed to help those who fell critically ill to recover physically and mentally, is now well under way in Newport.

Based at the Geraint Thomas National Velodrome of Wales in Newport, the programme targets patients who were ventilated in an intensive care or respiratory high dependency unit at the Royal Gwent or Nevill Hall Hospitals.

So far, there are four groups of a maximum of ten patients taking part in the scheme.

Set up by the Royal Gwent's respiratory team, the programme supports patients after their discharge.


Jill Haworth has worked with many of the patients since they were first admitted to hospital with coronavirus.

She is now part of the team which is overseeing their final stages of recovery.

"Positivity is second to none here," she said.

"They’ve all had a critical illness and it’s been a journey for them."

Despite the process being rewarding for all of the staff, it does come with challenges.

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The staff at the coronavirus rehabilitation programme at the Geraint Thomas Veoldrome

Ms Haworth said: "The emotional wellbeing is important as well.

"Not having that contact with loved ones is difficult and there is psychological support available too.

"It’s really given them a lift. Some of them went home from hospital in a bit of a ‘no man’s land’. Now they’re back, doing things they enjoy."

Ms Haworth said that Covid, and the subsequent pandemic and lockdown had been a "great unknown" for the entire staff.

"We didn’t know what to expect," she said.

Many of the patients lost a significant amount of weight and muscle mass during their time in hospital.

Now, thanks to rehabilitation, many of them are ready to go back to work.

"We’re getting them back to where they want to be," said Ms Haworth.

"It’s a support mechanism."

One patient who has benefitted from the support of the rehab programme is former professional rugby player Robert 'Scott' Robertson.

The 44-year-old, originally from Ayr in Scotland, now lives in Newport and said that coming to the rehabilitation sessions at the velodrome had helped him not only to recover from Covid but also to come to terms with the death of his mother.

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Robert 'Scott' Robertson

Mr Robertson's mother died last Monday following a five-year battle with cancer.

She was first diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago but, shortly after Mr Robertson was discharged from hospital on April 6, she was told it had returned.

"She was diagnosed with breast cancer, lung cancer. All that," he said.

"They gave her three to four years to live, which was bad enough. Then, a couple of weeks later she got really ill.

"They took her into hospital and scanned her again. It had spread to her brain. They told her she had months to live."

Mrs Robertson came out of hospital, but it was only four or five days later that she died.

"It was horrendous," said Mr Robertson.

"I’ve dealt with it now. It’s just part of life but it certainly doesn’t make it any easier."

He described how his year from March had been "horrendous".

Mr Robertson spent around two months at the Royal Gwent Hospital after contracting coronavirus.

He described how he was "in a bad way", being unable to walk 100 yards.

"It’s amazing how much muscle mass you lose," he said.

"I lost a lot of weight, but it wasn’t fat. It was muscle.

"A couple of times I got upset as I’m generally fit and used to play professional rugby for Newport.

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Robert 'Scott' Robertson undergoing cardio training

"I just persevered and eventually my health got better."

Mr Robertson said that, while his time in hospital had been "surreal", he was so ill that he didn’t experience the loneliness or boredom the others have spoken of.

"The illness was all I could focus on," he said.

"It wasn’t until a couple of days before I was discharged that I started to feel a little bit better.

"Luckily, I had my phone with me so I could have video calls with my mum and dad."

Mr Robertson has just started week three of his rehabilitation at the velodrome.

He said that the support he had received throughout his whole experience had been "absolutely fantastic".

"From the moment I was taken into hospital, every single person in the hospital and in this class has been fantastic," he said.

"From top to bottom, I can’t thank them enough.

"Even last week, I lost my mum on the Monday but I didn’t want to not come on the Tuesday.

"I got a bit upset to start with, but it just focused me."

The support provided is driven and led by each patient, with the programme tailored to individual needs.

Lewis Barton from Newport was making the most of this.

The 30-year-old, who competed at the 2016 Taekwondo International World Championships, said that he loved the chance to have a go on the heavy bag again.

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Lewis Barton

"I like that we’re not all doing the same thing," he said.

"I love to get on the bag, I haven’t kicked anything in months."

Mr Barton, from Newport, was in hospital for nearly three and a half weeks. He said he was "bored and ready to go home" by the end.

"It was an interesting experience," he said.

"I went into hospital and got a lot worse.

"The doctors said they’d have to put me on a ventilator. I thought I just had a really bad case of the flu.

"When my Facebook account went quiet, that’s when people started to freak out.

"I don’t know what drugs they were pumping me with, but I saw the most mental stuff."

Mr Barton said that he had lost 12kg in hospital, but was enjoying his rehabilitation.

"What they’re doing here is amazing," he said.

Another Gwent resident, who was fit and healthy until he contracted the virus, is Mark Owen from Caerphilly.

The 51-year-old had played football all his life and, until recently, played golf three times a week.

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Mark Owen

"I can’t remember my first five weeks at hospital," he said.

"I don’t know where I picked the virus up from, it just hit me.

"By the time I went up to the recovery ward I still couldn’t do things like use the phone by myself.

"I was in hospital just under nine weeks. I lost more than three stone."

However, within a week, he was walking again.

"It was awesome," he said.

"If you just had to go home, you’d find it difficult to motivate yourself.

"The staff are brilliant, the physios are brilliant. First class.

"The physios push you a bit, but that’s what you want."