New COVID-19 virtual ward to care for patients at home

People with COVID-19 who fall into high-risk groups are to be given devices to monitor their blood oxygen levels from home.

This is all part of an innovative ‘COVID virtual ward’ scheme that’s being launched at Somerset FT and Yeovil Hospital. It supports patients with clinically suspected or confirmed COVID-19, who are being discharged by a clinician from an acute hospital ward setting.

Dr James Gagg, our consultant in emergency medicine and clinical lead for urgent and emergency care, explained the new service: “We know people recover better in their own home and this enables individuals to be with their loved ones. By admitting them to a virtual ward, they are able to recover in their own home and we are also able to keep a track of their blood oxygen levels. It’s a really important development that will allow us to improve care for local people and ultimately save lives.”

How it works:

  • Patients are discharged home with appropriate medication and called by the virtual ward teams to check on them and monitor their symptoms, saturation levels, and medication for a period of 14 days after symptoms started.
  • The patient and their family member/carer is shown how to use the oxygen saturation monitor before they are discharged from hospital – this is placed on the end of a finger. A saturation level will be taken in hospital at rest and after an exertion activity, so we know the baseline levels for comparison.
  • The virtual ward team telephones the patient every morning and will check how the patient is generally, their symptoms, oxygen saturation levels at rest and saturation levels after exertion.
  • If there is a change in the patient’s condition they may need another assessment, possibly at hospital.
  • The team is available between 08:00 and 18:00 every day, should the patient feel unwell or need advice. They can call the team who will determine the best course of action and arrange an ambulance transfer if necessary to a COVID-19 assessment area at the hospital.
  • Outside of the hours of the virtual ward, if the patient feels unwell and their oxygen saturation levels are 93% or above they should call 111 for advice. If they feel unwell and their saturation levels fall below 92% they should call 999 or attend an emergency department (A&E).
  • At the end of the treatment the patient will be asked to return their pulse oximeter in a plastic bag either to the hospital or their GP practice.