Virtual Wards easing Covid pressure on hospitals
By Rob Freeman | 3rd March 2021
Virtual Wards are helping to ease the pressure on the NHS in Gloucestershire with more than 1,000 Covid-19 patients supported to remain at home safely.
The expansion of Virtual Wards during the pandemic enables patients to avoid being in hospital while still being observed, particularly in monitoring silent hypoxia.
Silent hypoxia - which means not enough oxygen reaches cells and tissues - does not spark usual symptoms such as breathlessness of wheezing but can lead to life-threatening complications.
To tackle the issue, patients on Virtual Wards have oxygen saturations recorded using a pulse oximeter which allows for earlier intervention.
Pulse oximeters fit on the finger and patients are asked to send their oxygen levels to a clinical team twice daily.
Dr Charles Sharp, respiratory consultant at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said "The NHS has been adapting the ways in which it supports patients to minimise the transmission of Covid-19, for example through using online or telephone consultations with GPs, consultants and other health professionals.
"Virtual Wards are another 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 give people confidence that they can remain at home safely."
Patients can be referred to a virtual ward via many routes including GPs, A&E or on discharge from hospital wards with staff supposed to monitor patients in care and residential homes.
Dr Hein Le Roux, deputy clinical chair at NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: "The idea behind the Virtual Ward is that it acts as a safety net for patients.
"It helps them to feel confident about staying at home safely, knowing that if their symptoms change or become worrying, they can get support by making a phone call.
"Caring for patients recovering from Covid-19 at home really can save lives. Obviously it supports social distancing and is helping our already stretched hospital doctors and nurses to focus on the most poorly patients in hospital."
Punchline-Gloucester.com editor Mark Owen is among the patients to have benefited from Virtual Wards after contracting coronavirus over Christmas.
He said: "It is a scary time, not just for the patient but also for their family. The reassurance of knowing you could keep checking and were being monitored by a doctor was amazing.
"One of my reports from my pulse oximeter went quite low and within two minutes the doctor was on the phone."
He continued: "Covid-19 can turn on a sixpence. Anything which can provide warning signals and ease the pressure on the hospitals is embraced.
"I want to thank all the wonderful NHS staff who helped me when I was being treated, be it at the hospital or at home."
The service is supported by telehealth provider Baywater Healthcare, which helps patients who do 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, ensuringpatients are receiving timely and compassionate care.
Dr Malcolm Gerald, a local GP who helped to set up the Gloucestershire service, said: "Thanks to clinicians pulling together and setting up this service in a short space of time, we have already supported over 1,000 patients to stay at home - a tremendous achievement.
"Not only do Virtual Wards help to avoid hospitals being overwhelmed, but by keeping people with COVID-19 out of hospital if they do not need to be there, patients are also less anxious."
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