USW engineers develop blood oxygen monitors for Covid-19 patients

Pulse Oximeter

The pulse oximeter

Engineers at the University of South Wales have developed an innovative blood oxygen monitor, after supplies of this key device became limited as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 


The device, known as a pulse oximeter, was designed to be manufactured in Wales and break away from the standard oximeter supply chains, effectively eliminating future sourcing bottlenecks. Researchers at the University of South Wales developed it in collaboration with Panasonic UK and clinicians in Hywel Dda University Health Board.


The pulse oximeter clamps onto to a patient’s finger, allowing clinicians to monitor the level of oxygen in the bloodstream and, importantly, the performance of their lungs. The university team identified key sources of measurement errors that occur, and in so doing were able to innovate a new highly accurate approach that can be implemented cheaply. The device provides high accuracies at lower oxygen levels, which is an essential requirement for effective Covid-19 treatment. 

Normally this level of accuracy is only achievable with far more costly approaches, so the device has potential for deployment in community settings, enabling clinicians to remotely assess Covid 19 patients whilst they self-isolate at home. A clinician could remotely monitor the performance of a patient’s lungs in order to determine appropriate and early life-saving treatment, such as CPAP to support breathing.

The team of researchers managed to turn around the concept from first principles to prototype in just two weeks. 20 prototypes have been developed and have passed the rigorous manufacturing test EMC. The pulse oximeter has also been submitted for a fast-tracked MHRA (Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) approval, so that the NHS and other care providers can use it as soon as required. 

Nigel Copner, Professor of Optoelectronics at University of South Wales, said: “We wanted to be able to use our experience and knowledge of optoelectronics and engineering to develop something that could be of real use during the pandemic. After discussions, it became evident that we could really help the NHS by developing a superior low-cost pulse oximeter that could be manufactured locally, avoiding potential bottlenecks for demand, cutting delivery times and creating a new supply chain within Wales and the UK. We have not only achieved these goals, but have also delivered a significant innovative step that allows high performance at a low cost, thereby enabling widespread deployment in the community to save lives.”