More than 6,000 patients with COVID-19 in Gloucestershire have benefited from home-based oxygen monitoring, helping them to stay at home safely and receive the right support when they need it if their health deteriorates.

Blood oxygen monitoring is helpful for anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and in particular those who are vulnerable or clinically at-risk, such as people aged 65+, pregnant women, people with learning disabilities or those with long-term conditions.

Patients are given a pulse oximeter, a small device which they attach to their fingertip. This records their blood oxygen levels completely painlessly within seconds and patients are advised to do this at home for about 10 to 14 days. Patients can pick up a pulse oximeter from their GP surgery or a local Minor Injury and Illness Unit.

Patients who are unable to monitor their readings and condition at home or escalate their care to hospital when necessary are asked to send their oxygen level reading twice daily via an app to a clinical team on the COVID Virtual Ward which reviews patients’ readings.

This means that patients whose oxygen levels are falling, even if they show no outward symptoms, are identified and the Virtual Ward team will ensure that they access treatment swiftly.

This is particularly helpful as some patients with COVID-19 are often unaware of how sick they are due to a condition called silent hypoxia. When this happens, there is not enough oxygen making it to cells and tissues in the body, and people often do not show the usual symptoms of breathlessness or wheezing.

Patients can be referred into the COVID virtual ward via many routes including their GP, A&E or on discharge from hospital wards such as maternity. The ward is also actively supporting staff to monitor patients in care and residential homes.

Dr Hein Le Roux, Deputy Clinical Chair at NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group, said:

“Monitoring oxygen levels at home is really simple to do. It offers reassurance to patients that they are being monitored and helps to keep vulnerable people safe by providing clinicians with important information about their risk of getting very ill.

In Gloucestershire, over 6,000 patients have used the Virtual Ward so far and it has enabled us to identify over 1,000 unwell people who needed to be admitted to hospital.

Those patients who were admitted to hospital stayed there an average of four days, which compares very favourably with the national average of seven days. Not only is a shorter stay beneficial for patients, but it also frees up hospital beds for very sick patients who need to be there.

We are really grateful to patients and their carers for engaging with this initiative so well, as well as our colleagues in GP surgeries for referring into the service. It would not have worked without their support at a very challenging time for everyone.”

Dr Charles Sharp, Respiratory Consultant at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“Virtual Wards are an important way to help hospitals to continue to provide high quality care to patients who are very unwell by allowing clinicians to safely manage and monitor patients at home and identify those who need to be in hospital.

They support people to receive care that meets their needs promptly, and hopefully they give people confidence that they can remain at home safely, helping them to be less anxious.

People can either be added to the Virtual Ward list as they leave hospital to return home or can be added by other healthcare professionals working in the community when they are identified as requiring additional support.”

The service is supported by telehealth provider Baywater Healthcare, which helps patients who do not have access to technology or need help using it. G DOC, the county’s GP provider company, provides clinical oversight of the service seven days per week, ensuring that patients are receiving timely and compassionate care.

Dr Jo Bayley, Chief Executive of G DOC, said:

“The Virtual Ward scheme has helped us to transform the way we care for people who have COVID. We know that people often recover best in their own home, but getting a diagnosis of COVID can feel frightening, especially for people who live alone. The Virtual Ward allows us to support people in their home; they feel reassured that help is available if they need it.

Patients have been telling us how much they value the Virtual Ward service as it gives them peace of mind, knowing that we are working with, and supporting them, to keep safe. And, if patients do become more unwell, we can ensure that they get the help they need quickly.”

Ryan, a patient who was monitored on the Virtual Ward, said:

“It just gave me the confidence that I was on the right track and that I wasn’t on my own – they were there, reassuring me, every step of the way. I felt safe and reassured that a doctor was on hand. The service was fantastic.”