A virtual ward has opened in South Tees Hospitals which can help COVID-19 patients to be discharged early.

Through the use of a small clip device, patients can monitor and report their oxygen levels from home and communicate to the respiratory team at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust during regular telephone calls.

The device, the pulse oximeter, can clip on to the patient’s finger to monitor their breathing.

Dr Ramamurthy Sathyamurthy, consultant in respiratory medicine at the trust, set up the South Tees virtual ward. The idea is based on a scheme used by West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust in Watford.

Dr Sathyamurthy said: “This is an innovative scheme with a number of benefits. It enables clinicians to discharge patients home early, allowing the patient to be at home with the confidence that they are being monitored remotely and supported by the respiratory nursing team. And often, allowing the patient to be at home and out of the hospital environment will improve their mental wellbeing.

“COVID 19 infection can produce low oxygen without the usual breathlessness symptoms and this remote monitoring will pick up deterioration earlier, facilitating readmission and treatment at an earlier stage if needed.

“It’s important to stress that it is not for all patients with COVID-19, but those identified as suitable by clinicians will be referred to the virtual ward.

“Respiratory nurses will teach the patient how to use the oximeter and how to record the readings. Once we’re satisfied, they are able to self-monitor, the patient is given an oximeter and re-sealable envelope with a return address, along with an advice leaflet, when they are discharged from hospital.

“The nurses ring the patient on designated days to discuss their progress and advise on further actions. The patient is also given a telephone number call in between review days, in case of deterioration for support and advice.”

The pulse oximeters were donated by Covid Crisis Rescue Foundation (CCR), a voluntary organisation set up in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The CCR has delivered over 40,000 items of PPE and medical equipment to frontline workers for free.

CCR’s work is funded entirely by donations to its JustGiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/coronavirus-fightback