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Prestigious award for 'first in country team' who revolutionised Covid care

Posted: 30 September 2021

Picture of the respiratory team

The British Medical Journal has crowned clinicians from West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (WHHT) with the prestigious title of Respiratory Team of The Year.

The award recognises the team’s immediate and innovative response to the pandemic. Anticipating a massive increase in admissions, two of the trust’s leading respiratory consultants, Dr Matthew Knight and Dr Andy Barlow, started work on plans to care for Covid patients in their own homes.

Colleagues from other specialties came on board quickly, as did staff from NHS organisations who provide community care, and within a few weeks the UK’s first virtual Covid hospital was born.

This new model meant that patients could be discharged more quickly from hospital or could avoid admission altogether. The results were that patients could recover in the comfort of their own homes and that hospital beds were freed up for very seriously unwell patients who really needed to be admitted.

Patients in the virtual hospital were closely monitored and had easy access to the team looking after them. At first, this was fairly basic and involved a combination of calls from consultants and readings from oximeters (devices that record the level of oxygen in the blood).

There were rapid developments in the technology used and an app was introduced to closely track changes in patients' symptoms, sending alerts when measurements moved out of a set range. Once the data is uploaded a green tick appears on the app, followed by another tick to indicate that all is well.

The data upload provides assurance for patients that their health is being closely monitored. Patients whose data is a cause for concern can quickly be seen in person, referred for additional tests or transferred to hospital if needed.

The impact of the respiratory team's early response to the pandemic enabled WHHT to care for over 4,000 patients at home, saving an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 bed days at the trust, preventing about 2,400 admissions and achieving 1,600 early discharges. Feedback from patients of the trust’s innovative respiratory pathway have been overwhelmingly positive.

Respiratory consultant Dr Rama Vancheeswaran said: "I am so proud to be part of a team who have come through the most challenging of times with such a prestigious accolade. Everyone at West Herts should take great pride in this achievement, especially the nursing teams, junior doctors and consultants who stepped up and worked valiantly as a family to serve the community."

Dr Knight received an MBE in the Queen's Birthday 2020 Honours list and Dr Andy Barlow was appointed clinical lead for Covid Virtual Hospitals for the East of England region to help other hospitals achieve the results that have put the trust’s respiratory team on the map.

Dr Mike van der Watt, WHHT's chief medical officer, said: "It's an honour to win this prestigious BMJ award that recognises the innovative work of our respiratory team and those who supported them. Clinical staff across the trust really stepped up to make this project the success it is, taking on new responsibilities and sharing the vision of what a virtual hospital could do for our patients. It’s a great example of teamwork within the organisation and with our partners in the community. The dedication and compassion demonstrated during the pandemic has been inspirational and we are delighted that our pioneering approach has been replicated across the country, saving many lives."

The pathway has set the standard for evolving the delivery of care at the trust and across the country. WHHT is now working hard with healthcare partners to roll out a virtual hospital model of care for heart failure patients.


  1. For more information, please contact the communications team on: 01923 436280 or email: Out of hours, 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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