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Covid-19 in the community

Seeking support from healthcare services to manage Covid at home

This page explores the experiences of people who contacted healthcare services for help managing Covid at home. Many people wanted help from healthcare services at some point during their Covid experience. This was often for advice and reassurance about interpreting symptoms, accessing testing, and looking after themselves and others while they were ill. This page covers the following topics:

  • Strategies for managing covid at home
  • Seeking support from healthcare services
  • Changing guidance and new variants

 
Strategies for managing covid at home

Most cases of Covid can usually be managed by isolating and resting at home. Abdul rang a doctor when he had Covid symptoms. He was advised to isolate, drink plenty of fluid and keep warm. June joked that the advice from the government for managing Covid was ‘stay home and good luck’. 
 

 

Abdul rang his GP and got advice about looking after himself at home.

Abdul rang his GP and got advice about looking after himself at home.

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Well we called the doctors up, but at that point it was just very ‘okay well if you’ve got Covid symptoms don’t come in, we’re not going to see you. No chance.’ Isolate, plenty of fluids, keep yourself warm, the typical things that like, well most of them, most people would say. So as much as yeah I called and said ‘oh can I you know, can I do anything?’ It was just a case of okay, get yourself tested, if you’re positive, lock you know lock yourself up essentially. Self-isolate and yeah that’s it, so it wasn’t really going to see the doctors per say it was more advice on what to do.


 
Other people who had already experienced Covid were also an important source of information for how to recover.
 
 

Aytana got advice from her parents and her brother about what helped recovery when they had Covid.

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Aytana got advice from her parents and her brother about what helped recovery when they had Covid.

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It was okay because I kind of knew the drill. Okay, what’s working for my parents. What my brother told me when he had corona, what was working for him as well so he was dropping a lot of things as well and he was helping as well. He was like, “Try this try that. And this will definitely help you, you know, to breathe easily. It will unblock your nose and stuff.” That’s where he was good.


 
As well as learning from other people’s experiences, some people we spoke to used devices to monitor the levels of oxygen in their blood. Laurie’s friend, who is a GP, explained how she could use her smartwatch to do this, and June and Laszlo were able to borrow a pulse oximeter from health services.
 
 

Dr Sharon Dixon explains what a pulse oximeter is and what it was used for during Covid.

Dr Sharon Dixon explains what a pulse oximeter is and what it was used for during Covid.

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My name is Sharon Dixon and I’m a GP. 
 
This is a pulse oximeter which is a little device that sits on your finger, sometimes you put them on toes, but it’s usually fingers.
 
And they shine a light through your finger and it helps tell what your heart rate is and what the level of oxygen in your blood is.
 
These were used quite often during Covid so if you went to any clinics for example or you saw a health professional for an assessment when you had Covid or Covid symptoms you may well have met one of these.
 
You might have had it checked when you were sort of sitting quietly or while you were breathing. Sometimes we use them on people who have walked around for a little bit to see if the oxygen levels were holding steady or staying the same when we did that.
 
These are more reliable than a smart phone reading which sort of bounces light off the skin.
 
Readings can be changed a little bit by things like nail polish, henna or sometimes if you’ve got poor circulation or very cold hands.
 
One of the things that can be helpful if you did have one at home is to know what your normal levels are and then to monitor for any changes or changes in your patterns or trend, including when you walk around, and that could have been one of the things that was quite helpful to monitor.
 
One of the other ways they were used in Covid in England was there was a scheme where you might be given one by a health professional who would have given it to you with a plan and a symptom diary and some follow up calls, and its just part of the tools to assess how people were feeling. It helped us look for oxygen levels that were very low that we might not have otherwise known about.
 
But it is really important to remember that it is only one part of the picture and at any point if anybody oxygen levels didn’t seem right or their symptoms didn’t seem right or they were worried about any aspect of how they were or how those might be related to each other it would be absolutely important not to rely on any one thing but to immediately discuss that with a health professional.

 

 

June liked being able to monitor her blood oxygen with a pulse oximeter.

June liked being able to monitor her blood oxygen with a pulse oximeter.

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I was able to get an oximeter to check my sat levels. I was able to borrow that. My son went and collected it for me. But that fell a little way into my condition. So, having things like that where you could self-test based on what you were advised and through that app that I was told that I could get the optometer or whatever it was and the simple things that were available via apps that were not, didn’t work as much, but physically having the optometer which you put on your finger and you with practice you’ve got the reading. It was a self-help thing that, that they were real practical and not things that were via the phone as reading.


 
Within the Orthodox Jewish community there are charities that lend medical equipment to help with managing illnesses at home. Rabbi Wollenberg was lent a machine that helped with his breathing while he had Covid.
 
 

A religious charity lent Rabbi Wollenberg an oxygen machine to help him manage Covid at home.

A religious charity lent Rabbi Wollenberg an oxygen machine to help him manage Covid at home.

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I’ve got Covid, I am struggling slightly to breathe. You know, can I get an oxygen monitor. At least I’ll know if I have to go into hospital, and they said “Well, we can do better than that. We would recommend that you borrow an oxygen machine. You need a prescription from your doctor.” I called my doctor, I explained it and they said that’s a great idea. Gave me a prescription, no problem. Yes, it’s a private prescription, yeah, I think it was a private prescription.

Seeking support from healthcare services

Local and national helplines were an important source of information about Covid. Before it was possible to test at home, Pooja spoke with a helpline about her symptoms and whether she should isolate. At the beginning of the pandemic, when people were very frightened about Covid, contacting 111 or a specialist Covid helpline was a way of getting reassurance about symptoms and how to care for yourself and others.
 

 

Gulsoom felt very reassured by the advice she received about her symptoms when she rang a local Covid helpline.

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Gulsoom felt very reassured by the advice she received about her symptoms when she rang a local Covid helpline.

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And now you’ve got these amazing Covid helplines, where you can ring up these helplines and you can say, “Look.” You know, rather than ringing 111 because they’re they are so busy it might take you an hour to get through to a 111 line. You ring the local community centre, where they’ve got a Covid helpline, and you can say, “Look, I’ve got cold and flu symptoms. I’ve got a bit of a temperature and a cough, you know. What shall I do? You know, I’ve heard, you know, people are dying, you know, what shall I do? I’m struggling with my breathing.” And they will try to advise you and support you. They will reassure you.

 


 
During periods of high demand there were sometimes problems getting through to someone on a helpline. Gulsoom and Susanne both spent hours waiting when they sought advice from 111. Surindar felt she was ‘going round and round in circles’ on the phone between the services provided by 999, 111 and her GP to find the right person to speak to. She wanted ‘dedicated Covid lines’ where she could get a rapid response.
 
At these times, NHS services were thinly stretched. This meant it wasn’t possible to get help unless you were extremely ill, and even then, it was not guaranteed. Paul joked that he used a ‘stiff upper lip’ as his Covid treatment. Pooja knew there were people who were sicker and needed more help than she did but wished there was more support available. June wished that a healthcare professional had checked on her while she was ill. She wanted reassurance that she was doing the right things to help with her recovery.
 
 

Pooja felt really alone when she had Covid, but knew that the health system was under pressure at the time.

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Pooja felt really alone when she had Covid, but knew that the health system was under pressure at the time.

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It was, you just feel really alone, you know. You just feel, wow, you’re just a number at the end of the day. It really is a pandemic. Every man for himself type thing. Just get on with it no matter how much discomfort you’re in, but ultimately, I can see where they’re coming from. I can see that they were overwhelmed with people who were finding, had breathing issues and things like that.

 
Changing guidance and new variants

A challenge in understanding how to effectively manage Covid at home was that NHS and government guidance changed regularly during the pandemic. This left people unsure about how to best care for themselves and protect others. Matt tried to use NHS websites and apps to decide what to do but found the messaging from different sources ‘contradictory’. Everyone wanted consistent guidance about how to best care for themselves and others when they were ill.
 

 

Matt preferred to get advice about Covid from a helpline, because the information on NHS websites was too generic.

Matt preferred to get advice about Covid from a helpline, because the information on NHS websites was too generic.

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Luckily my wife’s pretty sensible to and she, you know, between us, we just sat down and looked on our laptops and looked up NHS, basically Google, I’ve got Covid, what do I do sort of thing. And the instructions were relatively straightforward. We did find it was much easier to speak on the phone. There were a number of competing potentially contradictory bits of messaging on the NHS apps and different sites and as if it still wasn’t quite clear what you should do in any circumstance even 18 months on or whatever it is. So, we did find that getting on the phone was, was the best thing to do. Some, somehow it’s the ability to ask questions, I think that helps because you know, you can refine things more precisely towards your own condition, rather than, you know, at the generic level of what do you do with person Covid? Well what do you do with person Covid whose got these three symptoms and had them for such and such days, number of days. Has been double vaccinated and lives near a PCR centre, gets you a much more direct sort of result than just looking at something which is addressed at the sort of social society level. We found the phone just much, much easier. Very straightforward.


 
As well as guidance changing regularly, the emergence of new variants with different symptoms caused confusion about when to get tested. 
 
When she was seeking information about what actions to take based on symptoms, Samena got conflicting advice from Track and Trace and from her GP.
 
 

Samena received contradictory advice about whether she and her husband should get tested.

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Samena received contradictory advice about whether she and her husband should get tested.

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The only thing I would say is what I felt was that everybody’s so focussed on the main three symptoms that they, they, because even me at the initial got told don’t get, you don’t need to get tested if you’ve not got the main three symptoms which is why it stopped me and my husband getting tested. Had the doctor not said get yourself tested before I give you antibiotics we would never have gone and thought this was Covid and got ourselves tested. You can only imagine my husband being a taxi driver how many people he would have picked up and been in contact with, you know, some are elderly, some are, you know, got other health conditions and it could have been really critical for them that’s my main thing. I would say that, you know, I mean I don’t know why it’s, maybe it’s, I don’t really know why they focus so much on the three symptoms when you look at my story look at my parents, look at me, look at my husband none of us had any of the three symptoms.

 

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