Doctors have launched a campaign calling for home devices that measure blood oxygen levels to be available on prescription.
They act as an early warning system for people at increased risk of a ‘silent pneumonia’ death due to coronavirus.
They want the matchbox-sized gadgets, known as pulse oximeters, to be given to those in most urgent need for free. They also advise against otherwise healthy people buying them, to avoid a shortage for those who need them most.
One sinister feature of Covid-19 is that it causes a catastrophic fall in oxygen levels without patients noticing. Intensive care specialists have seen people chatting normally on their phones when their blood oxygen is only at 50 per cent — it should be around 92 per cent. This deficit means they are close to dying, as their vital organs will not be getting enough oxygen.
There is also a debate about whether millions who are vulnerable due to old age should also be issued with pulse oximeters, ahead of the anticipated second wave of coronavirus infections this winter.
Some are suggesting that people with Covid-19 should also be given the devices to help monitor them. As medical consultations are now taking place exclusively online or over the phone, the opportunity for a doctor to get an instant read-out of blood oxygen levels would help them decide whether a patient needs to go to hospital.
Following recent suggestions that we should all have pulse oximeters at home, Dr Babak Javid, a consultant in infectious diseases at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, said that it’s important to preserve supply for those most at risk from Covid-19.
Dr Javid, who was one of the first to highlight the benefits of the devices, added: ‘They would be of very little value for young, healthy people. For the majority they really wouldn’t be that useful.’
He says people in low-risk groups should think twice about buying them, because there will be a finite number manufactured.