Number of Virtual Wards Across the South East Increased

Expansion Announced as Part of National Plan

The number of virtual wards across the South East has continued to increase which will help with current pressures facing the NHS .  

Between September and December 2022, there was an increase of 36% in reported virtual ward bed capacity across the South East – from 803 to 1,090 with 57 virtual wards being established so far.  

More than 14,000 people have been admitted to a virtual ward since the programme began in April 2022 to December 2022.  

The focus on expanding virtual wards is a key part of the new Delivery Plan for recovering Urgent and Emergency Care launched this week. The NHS will expand care outside hospital and use opportunities to provide better care in people’s homes. By expanding virtual wards we will deliver a better experience for patients and avoid unnecessary admissions and improve discharge. Read the full plan here.

Virtual wards provide hospital level care and enable healthcare professionals to provide support and treatment to eligible people in their own homes, who would otherwise be in a hospital bed. This enables people to stay in their own home, where they are comfortable, or continue their treatment at home after a stay in hospital. 

Research has shown virtual wards improve patients’ outcomes, as well as the flow of patients through the wider health and care system by helping to prevent avoidable admissions into hospital and support safe and timely discharges. 

In a virtual ward, new technologies including wearable devices, smart devices, oxygen and blood pressure monitors provide real-time information through apps on a patient’s vital signs to a dedicated remote team of healthcare professionals. The technology enables healthcare professionals to monitor their condition and be able to direct care and support, either virtually or face to face if and when needed. 

Alison Taylor, Medical Director for System Improvement and Professional Standards and Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) for the Virtual Wards programme for NHS England South East, said: “Virtual wards can improve a patient’s condition and their experience by treating them in their home, with the care that is right for them at that time. 

“We’ve seen a large number of virtual wards set up and implemented across the South East, ensuring patients who can be treated at home are kept out of hospitals, particularly during the winter where a higher number of patients are admitted to hospital.  

“The technology enables us to monitor their condition and provide the most effective care for them, as well as keeping them safe and out of hospital where we know their condition can worsen much more quickly – NHS staff across the South East have done a fantastic job standing up virtual wards to provide hospital level care and support for patients to ensure they avoid unnecessary admission to hospital.” 

Patients and their families are benefitting from being cared for on a virtual ward and being given the care and treatment in his own home was really important to Ranjit, 90, from Oxford.  

Ranjit was referred to the virtual ward by his consultant after losing weight and he was very weak.  He was visited at home by a health care professional who arrived by motorbike and carried out tests and scanned Ranjit’s heart using equipment and a tablet. Apart from injections for low iron levels, none of the tests indicated that his health could be improved with treatment and he wanted to stay in his home. When his cough worsened, his daughter was able to speak to a clinician and he was given oxygen and antibiotics, all administered at home by a healthcare professional and the virtual ward team.     

His daughter, Juthy said: “Dad’s world was getting smaller, until he was only in the living room, now his bedroom, but he was able to be comfortable in familiar surroundings, with the smells, sights and sounds he loved and his home comforts. We were able to be with him and provide him with his personal care that he needed.  When they scanned his heart, it was so amazing to see his heart beating on the tablet.

Old man sitting in chair
Older patients have more difficulty attending appointments

  “The healthcare professionals looking after him were so polite, explained to him what was happening with his care and included him in these discussions, and treated him with dignity and respect. He was so much happier being at home.   

“Being treated at home gave my dad the security and peace he wanted.” 

Virtual wards are evolving to manage a wider range of medical conditions that would otherwise be treated in hospital, particularly for frail patients and those with acute respiratory infections.