The University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust has opened its second virtual Covid ward to support coronavirus patients with moderate symptoms at home.

The virtual ward allows clinicians to assess patients who arrive on the ‘emergency pathway’ (through a 999 or 111 call) with moderate to severe symptoms like fever, breathlessness, or cough.

If a patient meets the clinical criteria for the virtual ward they can be sent home with a pulse oximeter, a machine that will read the oxygen saturation levels in their blood, rather than being placed in a hospital bed.

A specialist team of respiratory nurses who run the virtual ward can monitor the progress of patients remotely via the oximeter. This is usually across a 14-day period with progress and deterioration of symptoms charted on their patient record.

If a nurse is worried, a conversation with a consultant will help decide if the patient should be admitted to the clinical decisions unit.

In most cases admission is not required and after 14 days of monitoring and support, the majority of people will be discharged from care having managed their symptoms at home.

Leicester’s Hospitals first virtual ward opened in October 2020 and has so far supported more than 120 Covid patients from their home.

Respiratory consultant, Dr Daniela Cristea-Nicoara, who led on the implementation of the virtual ward programme, said: “During the first wave, we feared the all too common reality of Covid – a sudden deterioration in health, and so many patients were admitted to hospital. With this wave, that doesn’t have to be the case, we know more about the disease and are better prepared to deal with the symptoms.

“When we consider that we’ve kept our patients safe and more comfortable, that we’ve been able to support their family, and help them manage their symptoms, and importantly they are satisfied with their care, to me it confirms that we are redefining what high-quality healthcare looks like.”

Virtual wards have been used increasingly since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most recently, Lewisham Health and Care Partnership (LHCP) launched a home monitoring pilot for patients with respiratory conditions and diabetes. Working with healthcare software companies HN and L2S2, the GP partnership is providing clinical coaching and virtual ward oversight for patients involved in the pilot.

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