NHS Borders will trial a new ‘virtual ward’ for coronavirus patients, the health board has announced.

It is hoped the initiative will help ease the pressure on hospital services in the region.

The ward will allow patients to get the care they need at home safely and conveniently, rather than being in hospital.

NHS Borders will operate the facility from Monday (February 14).

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Talking about the new development, medical director Dr Lynn McCallum said: “The introduction of the COVID virtual ward is a really positive step forward in caring for patients who have COVID-19.

“In many cases COVID-19 causes a mild illness which does not require acute medical treatment, but for this group of people does need to be closely monitored. Rather than being stuck in a hospital bed, in the virtual ward this monitoring takes place in the comfort of your own home, safe in the knowledge that you can get in touch with a clinical professional immediately if you need to.”

There are three groups of patients who may benefit from being monitored in the virtual ward, according to NHS Borders, including patients who are already in hospital because of COVID-19 and who are getting better.

Meanwhile, people who have presented at hospital because of COVID-19 and do need some treatment, but can get the treatment safely at home; and patients who have tested positive for COVD-19 and are eligible for antiviral treatment will be able to access the ward.

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Patients must have a face to face assessment from a clinician before they are referred.

Those on the ward will receive an item of equipment called a Pulse Oximeter and be shown how to use it, and will be given a patient diary to record symptoms.

Patients on the virtual facility will be contacted every day by a clinician to discuss their readings and symptoms, and how they are feeling.

“I want to reassure people that virtual wards are a tried and tested way of caring for people safely,” said Dr McCallum. “Although this is a new development in the Borders, patients with COVID-19 have been looked after in this way from the onset of the pandemic. As part of the assessment process before someone is admitted to the virtual ward we make sure that they fully understand what they need to do and that they are able to do it.

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“As well as being a better experience for the patient, introducing a COVID virtual ward means that we can free up space in the BGH to help support the restart of activity that has had to be paused during the pandemic and the most recent Omicron wave, so this is really good news for everyone.”

Virtual wards are in place in many health board areas across the UK.

The initiative will be trialled in the Borders initially until March 31, 2022.