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UK: NHS guidance warns blood oxygen monitors ‘may be less accurate if you have brown or black skin’

The NHS acknowledged the devices ‘may be less accurate if you have brown or black skin’

Medical experts’ warnings that blood oxygen monitors don’t work as well for people with darker skin tones have prompted the NHS to publish enhanced guidance on the use of the non-invasive device.

Following a rapid review by the NHS Race and Health Observatory published in April with recommendations into the accuracy of pulse oximeter readings for people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, NHS England and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency have said pulse oximeters can overestimate the amount of oxygen patients with darker skin are taking in.

Pulse oximeters are used to detect early signs of dangerous reductions in oxygen levels. The devices clip on to patients’ fingers and work by shining light through the skin.

They have been recommended for patients who are recovering from coronavirus at home. With people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds having been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, calls have mounted for the limitations of the devices to be acknowledged.

The NHS website includes a clarification for patients with black or brown skin. 

It reads: “There have been some reports they [pulse oximeters] may be less accurate if you have brown or black skin. They may show readings higher than the level of oxygen in your blood.

“You should still use your pulse oximeter if you’ve been given one. The important thing is to check your blood oxygen level regularly to see if your readings are going down.”

Dr Habib Naqvi, director of the NHS Race and Health Observatory, said: “We need to ensure there is common knowledge on potential limitations in healthcare equipment and devices, particularly for populations at heightened risk of life-changing illness, this includes black, Asian diverse communities using pulse oximeters to monitor their oxygen levels at home.”

Dr Naqvi, told the BBC’s Today Programme on Saturday: “The ever-growing evidence highlighting inconsistencies in pulse oximeter readings among those with darker skin tones cannot and should not be ignored, particularly during the current Covid-19 pandemic that is significantly having a disproportionate impact on black and ethnic minority people.”

After Marika Mason’s daughter Natasha contracted Covid-19 she looked for one of the devices to help assess her daughters condition.

She said: “I spent days searching for a pulse oximeter so Natasha could monitor her blood oxygen levels accurately at home and detect early signs of deterioration. I was wrong however because I have since discovered pulse oximeters are not as effective in detecting oxygen levels in people with darker skin.

“The guidance warns people with brown and black skin to be cautious about the risk of inaccuracy of oxygen level readings but these are potentially life-saving, affordable medical products. It’s a shame these devices may not work equally as well for people who are already disproportionately affected by severe Covid symptoms and death.”

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Written by The Editor

warrior dedicated to the cause of fighting the takeover of our culture.

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