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Another honour for first in country virtual Covid-19 hospital

Posted: 25 January 2021

Piture of Andy Barlow

A new way of treating Covid patients using digital technology has secured another accolade for West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust.

The ‘virtual hospital’, which was the first of its kind in the country, enables patients to recover at home whilst keeping the respiratory team looking after them fully updated via an app. Depending on the health of each patient, they follow a schedule for uploading key health data; such as heart rate, temperature and the oxygen levels in their blood, which they measure using a small piece of equipment called an oximeter.

In October 2020 one of the trust’s respiratory consultants - Dr Matthew Knight - was awarded an MBE to recognise his contribution to setting up the virtual hospital pilot in spring 2020.

And now, another member of the team has landed an important role to ensure that other NHS hospitals can follow the lead set by West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust. Dr Andrew Barlow, also a respiratory consultant, has been appointed as Clinical Lead for Covid Virtual Hospitals for the East of England region.

The focus of the new post – which he will carry out in addition to his current role – is to help other hospitals achieve the results that have put the trust’s respiratory team on the map.

Dr Barlow said: “We’re so pleased that what started life as an idea mapped out on a kitchen table has turned into an established way of helping Covid patients get over their illness in the comfort of their own homes. I am delighted to be able to share our success with other hospitals and to show them how this way of working should be as much a part of their clinical care as ward rounds.”

He added: “Teamwork played a huge part in getting this project off the ground, even to the point of family members compiling the oximeter and information leaflet packs. These were then hand delivered by the team, some of them taking to two wheels to combine their exercise with this important task! We were just so keen to get the pilot going because our research and planning pointed to it being a better way of treating many of our Covid patients.”

The pilot began with limited technology and with the team calling every patient, every day. But with support from NHSX and product development by tech firm Huma, the model is now far more sophisticated. Algorithms work with the app and can track subtle changes in patients’ symptoms, sending alerts when measurements move out of a set range.

Patients whose data is a cause for concern can quickly be transferred to hospital if needed or have an online consultation arranged. For most patients, the data upload provides assurance that their health is being closely monitored. Once the data is uploaded a green tick appears on the app, usually followed by another tick to indicate that all is well.

At present, more than 3,600 patients have been through the trust’s virtual hospital, some of them being referred directly from GPs and others being moved to this model of care after a hospital stay.

The main benefit of the virtual hospital is that it allows patients to recover safely at home, meaning that hospital beds are kept for those who really need them. It is estimated that at least 1,000 ‘bed days’ have been saved since the pilot started.

Dr Barlow added: “The virtual hospital has allowed us to avoid hospital admissions and return patients to their family quickly to complete their convalescence at home with continued monitoring supported by technology such as oximetry and the Medopad app developed by Huma. The feedback from patients and their families has been overwhelmingly positive.”

And he also said: “We had been thinking for some time that digital technology could be used to greater effect to save our patients unnecessary trips to hospital whilst giving us the data we needed. The rapid rise in Covid cases forced us to turn our ideas into reality and we were fortunate to have the support of Huma and NHSX to create such a successful model.”

  1. For more information, please contact the communications team on: 01923 436280 or email: For out of hours media enquiries please call the Watford General Hospital switchboard on 01923 244366 and ask for the on call communications manager.
  2. West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust serves people from across Hertfordshire, north London and further afield. It operates from three hospitals; Watford General, St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead. The trust has a catchment area of over 500,000 people and is one of the largest employers locally, with around 5,000 staff and volunteers.
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