We are are supporting our local healthcare systems to prepare for the expansion of virtual wards, which are a way of helping people to safely manage their care at home, rather than in hospital.

This webpage outlines key information about virtual wards, including links to relevant resources. It also highlights the support available from the West of England AHSN.

What are virtual wards?

Virtual wards are a pathway for patients who would otherwise have been in hospital: which might include components of admission avoidance and early supported discharge. Virtual wards provide acute clinical care at home (including care homes) for up to 14 days as an alternative to care in hospital.

Virtual wards are developed across systems and provider collaboratives based on partnerships between secondary, community, primary and mental health services, alongside consideration to the independent sector. Patients admitted to a virtual ward have their care reviewed daily by a consultant practitioner (including a nurse or allied health professional consultant) or suitably trained GP via a digital platform which allows for remote monitoring of a patient’s condition and escalation to a multidisciplinary team.

As per national guidance, virtual wards should be used for patients who would otherwise be admitted to an NHS acute bed or to facilitate early discharge. Consideration must be given to remote monitoring technology and wider digital platforms as these enable delivery of effective and efficient virtual wards.

Read the national guidance and standard operating procedure:

The national ambition

As of January 2022, there are 53 virtual wards across 38 integrated care systems (ICSs) primarily supporting acute respiratory infection and frailty (known as Hospital at Home) but there are others that support general acute conditions. The NHS@Home ambition is to support the national expansion of virtual wards based on evidence which suggests 16% of admissions could be supported through a virtual ward.  The aim is for ICSs to achieve 21 virtual ward ‘beds’ per 100k population by October 2022 and 40-50 by December 2023.

Further guidance can be found in the operational planning and virtual ward guidance below:

COVID virtual wards and Oximetry @home

In January 2022, systems received a letter (C1041-letter-supporting-hospital-discharge-covid-virtual-wards-13-jan-21.pdf) recommending that all ICSs immediately establish COVID virtual wards to support the earlier and safe discharge of COVID-19 inpatients in addition to their work on Oximetry @home pathways.

A number of COVID-related resources developed by the AHSN Network may be useful to support COVID virtual wards:

Read more about our work during 2020 and 2021 in relation to COVID Oximetry @home and COVID virtual wards.

What is the role of the AHSN Network?

The AHSN Network (to March 2022) were commissioned through the Patient Safety Collaboratives (PSCs) to support the rapid expansion of the (non-COVID) virtual ward model, using a system approach across the regional footprints.

This support consisted of a 3-month collaboration between regional NHS England and Improvement leads, AHSNs, PSCs and local system partners to co-ordinate a regional understanding of need and a standardised approach to delivery, informed and supported by local systems.

What’s happening locally?

Our local support offer makes use of our existing infrastructure and resources. We have been undertaking a rapid scoping exercise to understand use of virtual ward-based models across the region. As scoping is completed, we’ll begin working with individual systems, tailoring our support based on the findings of the review and local ambitions.

Whilst part of our remit is to capture challenges and insight, we are equally keen to share learning from the good work already happening in our region, so please do contact us if you have resources or learning to share.

Additional resources

All relevant NHS documents and further information can be found on the NHS@Home NHS Futures platform.

The following examples of work have been carried out in the West of England and may be useful to consider in the context of virtual ward roll-out:

Other local resources include the West of England Academy (with expertise and access to expert speakers around Quality Improvement topics), connections into industry and digital partners, and a grey literature evidence repository.

Contact us

For further information, please contact Senior Project Manager, Eleanor Powell.

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