Changing the conversation about health

English National Opera launches breathing programme – using singing techniques – for patients recovering from Covid-19

What started as a Zoom meeting between four College of Medicine physicians; Dr Michael Dixon, Sir Sam Everington, Professor Ajit Lalvani and Dr Harry Brunjes, has sparked a new, nationwide initiative with the English National Opera. 

The topic was COVID-19 and the breathlessness patients can experience when recovering from the virus. This can increase anxiety which leads to shallow panicky breaths as opposed to deep inhalation.  Patients enrolled in the new programme, called ENO Breathe, will be taught techniques to maximise oxygen input from breathing and enhance their convalescence.

ENO Breathe, a new nationwide initiative designed to help Covid-19 patients recovering from the virus – using breathing and singing techniques – has been launched following a particularly productive College of Medicine Zoom chat (Picture: ENO)
Dr Harry Brunjes, Chairman of the English National Opera

Michael, Chair of the College of Medicine, hosted the meeting, Sam (Bromley-by-Bow) highlighted respiratory problems, Ajit (Imperial College) facilitated introductions to St Mary’s and Harry, who is Chair of the English National Opera, introduced the concept to the opera company and the rest, as they say, is history. 

This is the first partnership of its kind between a leading arts organisation and an NHS Trust.

The combined forces of ENO and Imperial will provide crucial support to people rehabilitating from Coronavirus.  The scheme will bring together medical and musical expertise and the pilot scheme is already underway.

“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.”

Matt Hancock, UK Secretary of State for Health

Matt Hancock (Secretary of State) stated that, “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.”

Michael, Sam, Ajit and Harry are already discussing other presentations where the cutting edge intersection of arts and health can provide genuine and sustainable benefits to the community long term.

Such innovation underwrites the College of Medicine as a leading protagonist in the ever-growing discipline that is Social Prescribing.

Dr Michael Dixon said: ‘ENO Breathe is such a wonderful juxtaposition of good, basic physiology but also the Arts. What we’re seeing increasingly is the Arts enabling medicine to create a better tapestry and also a better experience when we heal various conditions, and I think the ENO Breathe initiative is the beginning of great things to come.

About the ENO Breathe programme: A singing, breathing and well-being programme for coronavirus recovery patients

During the coronavirus pandemic, the UK has seen over 130,000 people admitted to hospital with thousands requiring medical ventilation. The longer-term effects of those people surviving such invasive intervention are only just coming to light.

Coronavirus survivors, particularly those that required mechanical ventilation are experiencing a variety of medium and long-term difficulties – including breathlessness, fatigue, cognitive dysfunction and anxiety.

Our ENO Baylis team have joined forces with medical experts at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to develop an improvement in care intervention that aims to provide crucial support to people recovering from coronavirus. It is the first programme of its kind being developed specifically for patients recovering from COVID-19, co-developed by a leading arts organisation and an NHS Trust.

Bringing together our medical and musical expertise, we have created an integrated rehabilitation programme, called ENO Breathe, to support and empower those recovering from COVID-19. The programme will offer tools for self-management, particularly for those patients who are suffering from breathlessness and the high anxiety this produces.

Phase 1 – ENO Breathe Pilot Project

Who will be involved?

Working closely with staff at Imperial College Healthcare, our ENO Baylis Vocal Specialist will deliver a bespoke programme of virtual learning workshops, designed exclusively for patients referred onto the programme by the Trust. The pilot programme will start in early September 2020 and run over six weeks for up to 40 patients recovering from coronavirus.

What happens during a workshop?

The programme will use lullabies to help put COVID-19 to bed. Lullabies are short and memorable, tend to sit comfortably within a non-specialist singers vocal range, and are by their very nature, accessible to all.

During the course of the six week pilot programme, patients will learn techniques to help them focus constructively on their breathing, using music expressly designed to calm. Our combined approach to train the mind to work with the body will mirror techniques used by opera singers.

What’s needed for this pilot project?

We will develop a suite of bespoke digital resources based on lullabies, designed to support patients between sessions. These will include:

  • song sheets and accompanying materials
  • online audio/ video materials, recorded especially by our ENO singers for patients on the programme

How will we evaluate the phase 1 pilot project?

All patients involved will complete a series of self-assessments – at the start of the project, during the project, and at the end of the project – to help ENO Baylis and Imperial assess patient progress. We also plan to follow-up with patients 3-6 months after the pilot ends to identify the extent to which the tools and techniques have been used by patients beyond the duration of the programme.

When phase 1 is complete, we will publish a report on our website detailing what went well, what we will improve ahead of a proposed national programme, and what the medical professionals and patients said about the pilot project.

Phase 2 – ENO Breathe National Programme

Pending the outcome and results of our pilot programme, we aim to work with Imperial College Healthcare and other NHS Trusts around the UK to develop ENO Breathe as a national programme.

Phase 3 – Online learning course, available worldwide

In conjunction with Phase 2 and pending pilot outcomes, we aim to create a self-guided online learning course led that would be available worldwide to help coronavirus survivors in their recovery.

What does the programme cost?

The pilot programme will cost £12,000. This cost includes:

  • ENO Baylis Vocal Specialist designing and delivering brand new SIX week programme created specifically for COVID patients
  • Creation and production of bespoke digital resources recorded by our ENO singers
  • External evaluation of the pilot programme to rigorously assess its feasibility and acceptability for patients
  • Programme management and administration

What does my donation support?

Your donations to ENO Breathe will help pay for:

  • fees to freelance singers for creating audio and video materials at a time when their performing careers have halted
  • An ENO Vocal Specialist to co-lead the workshops
  • audio and video recording editing
  • creating bespoke resources and materials for patients to use during the sessions and at home between sessions

For more information on ENO Breathe, or to make a donation, click here