Pulse oximeters are being provided to patients as part of the NHS response to COVID-19. This service supports people at home who have been diagnosed with coronavirus and are most at risk of becoming seriously unwell.
What is a pulse oximeter?
A pulse oximeter is a small medical device that is put on the tip of the finger, to check someone’s oxygen levels.
Pulse oximeters measure blood oxygen levels by transmitting light through a finger – they are more accurate than smart watches or phones which make less accurate readings by reflecting light off the skin.
Pulse oximetry can help with earlier detection of silent hypoxia, where people have low oxygen levels in the absence of significant shortness of breath. This can help ensure more timely hospital treatment if required.
Who should use a pulse oximeter?
The COVID Oximetry @home pathway should be available to people who are:
- diagnosed with COVID-19: either clinically or positive test result and
- symptomatic and either
- aged 65 years or older or
- under 65 years and at higher risk from COVID-19, or where clinical judgement applies considering individual risk factors such as pregnancy, learning disability, caring responsibilities and/or deprivation. Further information about clinical judgement can be found on FutureNHS. Please register for an FutureNHS account to access this information.
Pregnant women being referred to a COVID Oximetry @home service should also be asked to contact their maternity team for specific advice around pregnancy and COVID-19.
A lighter touch pathway should be available to any adult aged 18 to 64, who has tested positive and has not been double vaccinated. This pathway is fully self-managed and escalated.
How does COVID Oximetry @home work?
The use of pulse oximetry has been expanded as part of the NHS response to coronavirus. All clinical commissioning groups were recommended to set up services for eligible patients in November 2020.
The service is usually offered by general practice working alongside community teams. People are provided with a pulse oximeter and supporting information to monitor their oxygen saturation levels at home for up to 14 days, supported by carers and/or family members where appropriate.
People are offered regular prompts or check-ins to ensure they are confident in using the oximeter and that they know what to do if oxygen levels fall below normal levels. A patient diary and instructional video is available.
Clear guidance on what to do in case of any concerns (either via contacting the GP, 111 or attending A&E in case of emergency) is provided, with 24/7 access to advice and support.
If, after 14 days of the onset of symptoms, patients show no signs of deterioration with coronavirus, they are appropriately discharged from the service and given advice on returning the oximeter safely, and how to continue supporting themselves at home.
- Information and links to key resources to support the care of pregnant women who test positive for COVID-19
- Frequently asked questions – COVID Oximetry @home and COVID virtual wards
- Information on the use and regulation of pulse oximeters from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency
- National guidance on the use of pulse oximetry in primary and community care settings
- Standard operating procedure for oximetry at home services
- Application of clinical judgement – please register for an FutureNHS account to access this information.
- NHS Digital COVID Oximetry @home information
- NHS Volunteer Responders may be available to assist with the drop off and collection of pulse oximeters.
- Guidance on how to safely and easily clean oximeters between each patient.
- FutureNHS platform (login required). This includes access to a step by step toolkit for implementation. For access, please email email@example.com.
- HSJ e-learning toolkit
- E-learning for carers modules
- The AHSN Network support and information
- Care Provider Alliance COVID Oximetry @home services for care home residents
Resources for patients, carers and families
- An NHS video featuring Dr Matt Inada Kim showing how to use a pulse oximeter at home. This video is also available in a number of alternative languages on the Health and Care video library.
- A patient diary including step by step instructions on using an oximeter and what to do in case of concerns.
- Translated and easy read versions of the patient diary are also available.
- This NHS animation shows how to use the pulse oximeter and diary and/or app provided.
- Leaflet: Suspected coronavirus (COVID-19): important information to keep you safe while isolating at home
- General information about looking after yourself at home when you have coronavirus is available on NHS UK, including information on pulse oximeters.