Charlotte Wells talks to us about her Charity grant, a year of providing physio for patients online and designing services to suit children and teenagers

Charlotte Wells is one of four non-medical health professionals at Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals who won a grant from the Charity last year to fund their research. Charlotte is a specialist respiratory paediatric physiotherapist, and she works with children and teenagers who have asthma and other breathing problems. We checked back in with Charlotte to find out how the last year had gone. 

Physiotherapy by telemedicine

Charlotte said: “We needed to see how we could adapt better and what opportunities we could take from what we've learned over the last year in developing what we can offer.” 

This also made the sessions more accessible for patients who lived further away from Royal Brompton Hospital.

“I have patients who come from Cornwall, who come from Wales, who come from Newcastle, I’ve got some over in Ireland. So, it was good to provide something for patients who live far away,” she said.

Patient focus group

This programme was patient focused and Charlotte involved her paediatric patients in creating a service that was tailored to them. She started by running a focus group to find out what her patients needed. Charlotte said it was important to “make sure the service was really guided by the service users.” 

I wanted them to say what they wanted, how they wanted it, what helped and what doesn't help from all different age ranges of children.

For the focus group, Charlotte spoke to a wide variety of patients. “I wanted to purposively choose people from different walks of life, different places across the country who needed different physiotherapy interventions and have different learning needs as well. This was to have the best possible chance of creating something that would be helpful for everybody,” she said.

Online guides

The project evolved with service users’ input. Charlotte set up pages on Royal Brompton Hospital’s website to guide her patients in their exercises at home. Using the feedback from her focus group, she tailored these guides to her patients. For example, she knew that teenagers and children needed separate resources.

Charlotte said: “They were very clear that although you might be giving them very similar information, they [the teenagers] wanted resources they could relate to.”

Charlotte also held physio classes live on the online platform Beam, so that the children and teenagers she worked with could do their exercises from home. These were also uploaded to the platform for patients to watch later.

Some people were totally used to live classes and really happy to participate, but others they absolutely did not want to be part of a live class, but loved the fact that they did have the option to join afterwards. This was an option to cater for everyone.

Helping patients manage their asthma

Using these services, Charlotte was able to offer different physio activities for children with a range of breathing difficulties online. Her aim was to get the children as fit as possible to help them manage their asthma. “Kids with asthma can feel a bit uncomfortable when they exercise, but if we can help them exercise and get as fit as possible then they’ll get less symptoms and have better asthma control,” she said.

The project evolved into a three-month summer school with weekly topics chosen by the focus group. A huge range of clinical specialists from Royal Brompton Hospital got involved, as well as experts from across the UK and Ireland. One session included Alex Hemsley, a physiotherapist with severe asthma and EILO who is also a Team GB age group triathlete. Alex won silver at the 2019 SwimRun World championships and gold in the national SwimRun event. She inspired the children and teenagers in the summer school that asthma shouldn’t limit their dreams and goals.

Engaging patients

Flash cards were made available to download from Beam and Royal Brompton’s website so that the children and teenagers, and their parents, had resources to review when they needed them. Following feedback from her patients, Charlotte learned to make the flash cards more visual.

“They wanted more pictures and less words, because they found every leaflet that they were given has too many words,” Charlotte said.

In the future Charlotte is working to make the project more engaging for her patients, which will motivate the children and teenagers to get involved and manage their asthma better.

We're always looking at how can we engage the patients better.

Charlotte also wanted to say thank you to Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals Charity for funding her research. “This year has been hard work, I have learnt a huge amount, and we have achieved so much for our patients and to progress our services. This just would not have happened without this research funding.”

Well done Charlotte for finding a really innovative way to help her patients manage their condition. You have made a real difference to the lives of children with asthma.

If you want to support research like Charlotte’s that is making a positive difference to patients, then click the link below.