More than 100,000 treated on ‘virtual wards’

NHS England said that the ability to treat patients at home is a ‘real game changer’.
NHS England said that the ability to treat patients at home is a ‘real game changer’.

More than 100,000 patients, including children, have been treated in so-called virtual wards over the last year, NHS officials have said.

Leading medics said that the use of the system to monitor patients at home has been a “real game changer”.

Officials say virtual wards can help patients avoid unnecessary hospital trips altogether, or enable them to be sent home from hospital sooner.

Using various equipment and technology, clinicians can monitor vital signs such as a patients’ heart rate, oxygen levels and temperature remotely.

A virtual “ward round” can involve in-person visits or video consultations with clinicians from various specialities, who can provide a range of tests and treatments – including blood tests, prescribing medication or administering fluids through an intravenous drip.

The initiative is a key part of NHS plans to recover services after the pandemic – and the NHS eventually aims to have 50,000 people treated on virtual wards every month.

NHS England told the PA news agency that more than 100,000 people have been treated on the wards in the last year.

This includes some 545 children who have been treated on paediatric virtual wards in the Black Country, with more being treated in other parts of the country.

NHS England said that some 16,000 patients were treated on virtual wards in January alone.

There are now a total of 7,653 virtual beds in 340 virtual ward programmes across England.

NHS England’s national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: “The advantages of virtual wards for both staff and patients have been a real game-changer for the way hospital care is delivered and so it is a huge achievement that more than 100,000 patients have been able to benefit in the last year alone, with the number of beds up by nearly two thirds in less than a year.

“With up to a fifth of emergency hospital admissions estimated to be avoided through better supporting vulnerable patients at home and in the community, these world-leading programmes are making a real difference not just to the people they directly benefit but also in reducing pressure on wider services.”

The Telehealth Team, run by Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, supports around 2,000 patients a day with conditions like diabetes, heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Nurse Nisha Jose, clinical team leader at Mersey Care’s Clinical Telehealth Hub, said: “People yearn for normality and the comfort of home, yet when they get home, they may become worried.

“With our virtual ward programme, we can do everything that would happen on a hospital ward.

“We take observations every six hours to identify any issues and we can even carry out ECGs at the patient’s home. It has truly transformed the way we deliver care.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we deliver care.

“We know up to 20% of emergency admissions are avoidable with the right care in place and in the last year virtual wards have supported 100,000 patients to receive the care they need to recover safely from the comfort of their home.

“We want to go further and as set out in our urgent and emergency care recovery plan, we will expand the use of virtual wards so that 50,000 patients a month can benefit from high-quality care at home, speeding up their recovery, freeing up hospital beds and helping reduce waiting times for emergency care.”