Journey through rehab - Dr Peter Wright

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Simon Mace 4

Simon's long journey through rehab, by Dr Peter Wright - Programme Lead: Sport & Coaching Sciences


The story of Simon and how he fought cancer is quite amazing and that he is with us today is close to a miracle. Most of this is due to his fighter personality – he will never give up. Today he regularly visits the sport centre and is a Brookes Sports ambassador, he gives talks to students on our “clinical populations and rehabilitation” module and others and occasionally even advises on research projects around the topic of cancer and rehab. In short, it is quite amazing how his relationship with Brookes has developed and there is much more to come.


In October, he is planning to climb the roof of the O2 Arena and I sometimes wonder why he could not have chosen an easier task? Then I have to remind myself that this is Simon I am dealing with and nothing is impossible. Thus, we decided to create a student experience project around it and raise awareness for the lack of rehab/exercise provision for cancer survivors, which frequently leads to preventable secondary cancers that are too often fatal.


Simon is a prime example of someone who was hit by cancer and once discharged from hospital fell through the network of social security and support in terms of long-term rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the UK is one of the countries in Europe with the least developed rehabilitation systems. In most European countries, rehabilitation is centrally funded and enables patients to structured exercise interventions for any health condition for many months or even years without having to pay a penny or cent as it were. In addition to this, in countries like Germany or Scandinavian countries this long-term rehabilitation system leads seamlessly into secondary prevention schemes, which again are free of charge and ensure a long-term health benefit and possible lifestyle change. This in return minimizes medical follow up costs and potential relapses and hospital stays. Germany for instance has approx. 1,500 specialised rehabilitation hospitals and community based rehab clinics that offer a structured exercise, nutrition and psychological interventions without any waiting lists as part of a holistic rehabilitation process that can take up to two years followed by secondary prevention schemes.


Rehabilitation intervention is essential in helping to address the impact of:

  • physical or movement problems
  • sensory problems
  • cognitive or behavioural problems
  • communication problems
  • psychosocial and emotional problems
  • medically unexplained symptoms
  • mental health conditions


However, the system described above was not available to Simon and he had to help himself and that is where Oxford Brookes University came into the equation. The Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning group (OCCG) does not even fund GP exercise referral schemes currently, which is a very basic form of exercise provision for people with risk factors and/or a history of health problems. This situation is additionally aggravated by the lack of knowledge of health professionals about the effects and very strong evidence of the benefits of exercise.


If it had not been for Simon’s perseverance, I would have never met him and he probably would have been stuck in the system without any long-term rehabilitation. Initially we started his exercise therapy sessions as an opportunity for students to shadow a community based rehabilitation programme. His general constitution has improved so dramatically that he now walks around 10,000 steps on most days of the week. The exercise therapy sessions at Brookes Sport have turned into training sessions and with a few modifications, Simon can do most exercises. We still have a long way to go and there is always room for improvement, but with Simon’s determination and a little bit of support from Brookes staff and students I am confident that he will not only climb the roof of the O2 arena, but will also be able to return to work after his long journey through rehabilitation.