More than 100,000 patients have been treated in NHS virtual wards in the last year, with 16,000 patients treated in January alone. Virtual wards allow patients to get hospital-level care at home safely and in familiar surroundings, helping speed up their recovery while freeing up hospital beds for patients that need them most.
There are now more than 340 virtual ward programmes across England – 58 opened in January – including a total of 7,653 virtual beds. NHS teams have worked hard to increase numbers by almost two thirds (60%) since May 2022, when 4,485 were available for patients – an average of nine new virtual ward beds each day.
These ‘Hospital at Home’ models help reduce avoidable admissions by providing the hospital-level care at home. People on a virtual ward are cared for by a multi-skilled team who can provide a range of tests and treatments, including blood tests, prescribing medication or administering fluids through an intravenous drip.
Patients are reviewed daily by the clinical team and the ‘ward round’ may involve a home visit or take place through video technology. Many virtual wards use technology like apps, wearables and other medical devices enabling clinical staff to easily check in and monitor their recovery.
Frimley Health provides acute hospital care to patients in their homes, with 83% of patients estimated to avoid hospital admission. Between July 2022 and January 2023, 774 patients were cared for across local communities.
These innovative virtual wards were a key part of the NHS urgent and emergency care recovery plan, launched at the end of January, with a goal of treating up to 50,000 patients a month.
The plan also outlined a series of other measures aimed at reducing pressure on the NHS and bringing down waiting times, including an expansion of community falls and frailty services, urgent community response teams, as well as creating more physical beds in hospital.
NHS 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 COPD, diabetes and heart failure.