By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Hundreds of lives could be saved with oxygen pulse readers that have been rolled out across the county amid fears of a hidden symptom of coronavirus.
A trait of Covid known as ‘silent hypoxia’ can leave a person feeling relatively well, despite blood oxygen levels dropping to dangerous levels. To track this, the NHS in Kent have distributed 5,000 small devices called pulse oximeters.
The devices are placed on a person’s finger and used to measure blood oxygen levels. Any severe Covid cases can be identified early and referred to hospital.
Dr Simon Dunn, who works at Heron Medical Practice in Herne Bay, said the service was “making a difference” at a virtual meeting involving the Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) governing body yesterday.
He told the CCG executives: “We know that oxygen levels tend to drop in people who are going to get problems with Covid, around 24 hours before everything else comes crashing down.
“The theory is we get people into hospital quickly and start treatment early.”
Oximeters, which were introduced in the county last November, aim to improve people’s survival rates and shorten the time they spend in hospital, freeing up bed capacity for patients who are seriously ill.
Amid the second wave of the pandemic, more than 1,200 Kent residents have occupied bed space in the county’s seven main hospitals, which is more than twice the number recorded during the first peak between March and June.
To ease the pressure, GP surgeries have prescribed 5,000 pulse oximeters to people in Kent. The readers will automatically contact people at regular points over their 10-day self-isolation period to review their oxygen levels.
Normal oxygen levels range from 95 to 100%. Values under 92% are considered low.
Any patients with severe symptoms will be transported to hospital, with 200 cases referred across the county as a direct result of the device readings.
Praising the scheme, Dr Dunn said: “If you have Covid at hospital and you are on your own it is frightening, but at least you have health staff around you.
“If you have coronavirus at home and someone has told you are in the high risk category you can be sitting in you house, with Covid, worrying about whether you will be in an intensive care unit (ICU) that next week.”
Dr Dunn added: “A number of people have said this has been a comforting support service. They have said it was like having arms put around them.”
Oximeters have been sent out mainly to elderly people, however support has also been offered to asylum-seekers staying at Folkestone’s Napier Barracks.
Meanwhile, virtual coronavirus wards have been or are in the process of being piloted by several trusts in Kent, including Medway NHS Foundation Trust, East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust and Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust.
Digitial technology will allow doctors to remotely monitor the status of patients in their own homes and relieve pressure on bed capacity.
Maria Jackson, an independent registered nurse in Kent, gave her support at the CCG meeting. She said: “In all the darkness we have been hearing today about deaths, these two things are really positive and brings us some hope.”