Imperial College Healthcare working with English National Opera on singing programme for Covid-19 patients

The programme will use lullabies to help to put Covid-19 to bed.

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust is working closely with the English National Opera (ENO) to develop an online social prescribing intervention that will provide support to people recovering from Covid-19, in the first partnership of its kind between a leading arts organisation and an NHS Trust.

Working closely with Dr Sarah Elkin, who is clinical director for integrated care and a respiratory consultant at the Trust, the ENO have developed an integrated six week pilot programme of singing, breathing and wellbeing aimed at supporting and enhancing the recovery of patients who are still experiencing symptoms after their initial Covid-19 illness.

Some patients experience breathlessness for some time after they have recovered from Covid-19. This can increase anxiety, which in turn can cause patients to take shallow, panicky breaths, using only the top part of their lungs, rather than inhaling deeply. Patients enrolled in the programme will learn techniques to help them focus constructively on their breathing, using music that is designed to calm.

Dr Sarah Elkin said: “As the country recovers from the effects of Covid-19, it’s important to remember that some patients recovering from the disease are still struggling with symptoms that can cause them significant distress, even after they’ve recovered from the initial illness. As doctors, we know from experience that community and social interventions have the potential be incredibly powerful for these patients, as well as providing them with tools and mechanisms to cope with the impact of Covid-19 in the future.”

At Imperial College Healthcare, singing is already used as part of integrated care for people with COPD and chronic respiratory issues, which are often related to smoking and asthma. The ENO Breathe programme is being developed specifically for patients recovering from Covid-19, particularly those who are still suffering from breathlessness or anxiety. It is the first programme of its kind being developed for these patients.

Led by ENO Baylis, the ENO’s learning and outreach programme, this holistic online programme brings together medical and musical expertise and will provide new ways to support and empower patients recovering from Covid-19, through self-management tools for posture, breath and anxiety.

Jenny Mollica, Director of ENO Baylis, said: “The ENO is a firm believer in the power of social prescribing, and we want to make a difference to the lives of people and communities recovering from Covid-19. We are proud to be working with the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to deliver this timely intervention at the cutting edge intersection of arts and health. Our new online programme ENO Breathe, will provide participants with support from leading medical and artistic practitioners and offer them a unique opportunity to not only support their physiological recovery but also their mental health as they continue to recover from the impact of Covid-19.”

Traditional lullabies cross boundaries of culture and tend to sit comfortably within a non-specialist singer’s vocal range, making them accessible for all. Using lullabies as the creative starting point, the ENO and Imperial aim to empower patients with tools and techniques that they will be able to use beyond the duration of the programme.

Dr Harry Brunjes, Chair, the ENO, said: “Social prescribing is an active partnership between the community and clinicians. As a medic myself, I am thrilled ENO is to be working with Imperial College Healthcare in this shared initiative which both promotes and underwrites ENO's commitment to social prescribing. I am also very grateful to the input from our new board member, Professor Ajit Lalvani, Professor of Medicine at Imperial College and protagonist of social prescribing, whose expertise we admire. ENO Breathe will be the first project that is planned as part of ENO's mission to ensure that the skills and expertise of all those at the London Coliseum can provide genuine and sustainable benefit to the community long term."

Initially being trialled in a pilot programme across London, the ENO and Imperial College Healthcare plan to expand nationwide. It continues the ENO’s ongoing support of the NHS and in particular, Imperial College Healthcare, having made scrubs for their respiratory team during the pandemic.

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the National Academy of Social Prescribing said, “We’re absolutely delighted to support the English National Opera and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust with their exciting new Breathe project, supporting people recovering from COVID through singing together. This creative initiative will provide both practical help and much needed emotional support. We look forward to hearing their progress and will be helping them to spread this initiative across the country.”

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: “There are thousands of people up and down the country right now who are benefiting from social prescribing. I am confident that it has a clear role to play in treating and supporting people who have suffered from Covid-19. ENO Breathe is a fantastic initiative that will provide the person-centred care that we know is better for patients, staff and the health system alike.”

Caroline Dinenage, Culture Minister, said: "We have seen throughout the coronavirus outbreak the importance of the arts for our mental wellbeing and this new initiative shows that they can also provide powerful benefits for our physical health. I hope this innovative combination of music and medical insight will bring help and comfort to many on the road to recovery."