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Can ‘prehabilitation’ benefit kidney patients preparing for transplant?

29 January 2024

Physiotherapist Juliet Briggs from King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has been awarded an allied health professional fellowship award of £252,000, in partnership with the Stoneygate Trust, to develop and test an online ‘prehabilitation’ programme to prepare patients mentally and physically for kidney transplant. 

Problems while waiting for a transplant

It can be extremely difficult to maintain an active lifestyle while living with kidney disease, and this can impact both physical and mental health. Kidney transplant is usually the best treatment for kidney failure. We know that having a healthy, active lifestyle will increase the chances of having a successful transplant, but waiting for a kidney transplant can be a long process, and often requires the patient to be on dialysis treatment. This can impact mental health and ability to exercise 

Female with shoulder length brown hair, wearing a pink tshirt, smiling towards the camera
Juliet Briggs from King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Pamela Scarborough, Beam Co-Founder

'Prehabilitaton' could be a solution

‘Prehabilitation’ is a term used to describe a proactive approach to preparing a patient emotionally and physically to make sure they are in the best possible condition for an upcoming surgery or treatment. Previous studies have shown that those who followed an exercise programme and had psychological and nutritional support before their surgery had a quicker recovery time and better quality of life after surgery.  

Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, with funding from Kidney Research UK, the online platform ‘Kidney Beam’ was created to support people living with kidney disease with their emotional and physical wellbeing. This was well received by people living with kidney disease and has shown positive benefits to people’s mental health, physical function, energy levels, levels of fatigue and ability to self-manage their condition. 

Building on the success of Kidney Beam, Juliet will develop and test a 12-week digital prehabilitation online programme through this platform that will be tailored to the needs of patients undergoing kidney transplant. Juliet will carry out a trial where individuals who are preparing for transplant are assigned a computer programme either to carry on with their usual care, or to complete the online prehabilitation programme. Participants will be interviewed to understand their experience of taking part in the study, and to inform which elements of the study can be progressed or changed before moving onto a larger study. 

What this might mean for patients

If successful, this programme would provide a valuable addition to routine NHS pre-transplant care, making sure that patients are in the best mental and physical health possible before their transplant to increase their chances of a smooth recovery and transplant success. 

Juliet said “I am delighted to have been awarded a PhD fellowship by Kidney Research UK. As a specialist physiotherapist I am passionate about the role of exercise and rehabilitation in supporting people living with kidney disease to live well with their condition. This project will enable me to increase my skills and knowledge and support research to improve the care that we provide for people preparing for kidney transplantation.  

The planned research project will evaluate the acceptability of a digital health prehabilitation package to support people preparing for kidney transplantation. If successful, this will be an essential part of pre-transplant care in the UK.” 

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