Pennine GP practices, East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust and Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust are working together to monitor vulnerable patients with Covid-19 from their own homes.
The Covid-19 ‘virtual ward’, or ‘pulse oximetry at home’, was set up in response to the significant challenges and impact that the pandemic has had on local residents.
This at-home monitoring service will be available for those with a positive Covid-19 test result (within the last 14 days) or clinical suspicion of having Covid-19 illness, who have Covid-19 symptoms, and are identified as being clinically vulnerable to developing low blood oxygen levels due age, a pre-existing condition or other significant risk factors.
New systems are in place that will automatically send Covid-19 test results to GP practices as well as sharing them with the patient.
This will give GPs visibility of which of their patients have had Covid-19 tests and whether they have tested positive or negative. A clinician within the practice will review results daily. If a patient is at risk of developing moderate or severe Covid-19 illness, they will assess the patient to determine whether they would benefit from referral to the Covid Virtual Ward to measure the oxygen levels in their blood several times a day, or whether alternative care arrangements may be more appropriate.
This scheme will also help to ensure that hospital beds are available to those who need them most during the Covid-19 pandemic and if and when patients require further treatment, they can be rapidly admitted to hospital if needed.
Using this remote monitoring service, healthcare professionals will check-in on patients over the phone or through a mobile phone app. If GPs and other clinical staff can identify Covid-19 positive patients with low oxygen levels early, there are proven treatments that improve survival rates, the chance of recovery and reduce the need for (or length of) a stay in hospital.
This service is being rolled out through partnership working across the whole of Lancashire and South Cumbria throughout November and December and will be delivered by NHS providers and their local medical and home support provider services.
Pennine Lancashire Medical Director Dr Mark Dziobon said: “The Covid-19 virus has presented a significant challenge to the NHS and we have learnt a great deal since the first wave about the virus. There are now proven treatments that improve the survival rates improve recovery and reduce the length of stay.
“One of the main concerns is how it can cause what is called ‘silent hypoxia’. Silent hypoxia is when your body is starved of oxygen but without causing noticeable symptoms such as breathlessness. This results in patients not realising just how unwell they actually are due to their perceived symptoms being mild.
“A way of identifying silent hypoxia is by monitoring blood oxygen levels. This can be done by using a small device called a pulse oximeter. The device displays your pulse and blood oxygen level, and you can monitor this from the comfort of home. If your level starts to drop, this will be picked up early so treatment can begin in a more timely fashion.”
Tony McDonald, Executive Director of Integrated Care, Partnerships and Resilience for East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust said – “The Covid Virtual Ward gives us an early-warning system so any deterioration in health can be picked up sooner. We know that people with coronavirus who suffer even a slight drop in their oxygen levels can be at a heightened risk from the virus, which is why it’s vital that we monitor this.
“If people need further treatment, they can be admitted to hospital where we can continue to monitor and care for them. I want to reassure people that we have strong measures in place to ensure that our patients and staff stay safe. If you require treatment within a clinical setting and have an appointment then please do attend.”