Utilising virtual wards to boost the NHS

The NHS has a target of 40-50 virtual wards per 100,000 people with a target of 10,000 virtual beds by autumn

At Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham, more than 60 patients have been treated on virtual wards, saving the trust £160,000.
Medway NHS Foundation Trust is implementing a virtual wards programme that allows people to remain in their own homes, whilst still under the direct care of the hospital.

Technology, including the Accufuser elastomeric infusion pump from Vygon and remote monitoring technology, allows staff at the hospital to administer drugs and track patients’ vital signs even though they are at home. Clinicians are able to stay in touch with patients via telephone or video call.

What are the benefits?
With patients being treated safely at home, this frees up beds in the hospital for those that need them.
The remote treatment means that patients avoid a stay in hospital, which also limits their exposure to and risk of getting an infection.
It is estimated that the virtual wards are also saving money. It is reported that a day on a traditional ward can cost £658 for a respiratory patient and £460 for a haematology patient, while a day on a virtual ward costs just £187.51.
Clinical nurse lead and service improvement manager Jackie Hammond implemented the Surgical Medical Acute Recovery Team (SMART), made up of dedicated nurses, consultants and therapists, that runs the virtual ward.
The team launched in 2016 and the approach has been developed during and since the pandemic.
Between the introduction of the Accufuser in October 2021 and January 2023, 64 patients have been treated on virtual wards using the technology. Without the technology, these patients would have needed to have been treated on conventional wards.
She said: “The days of patients staying in hospital throughout their acute treatment is in the past.
“The recent pandemic highlighted how safe and important receiving care in one’s familiar environment is, by utilising innovation and technology.”
More and more people will be treated in virtual wards as the need becomes apparent and as the technology becomes available. It is clear that when used appropriately, virtual wards offer a great alternative to staying on a traditional ward.