The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has shared a new plan which will see the NHS expand services aiming to keep the vulnerable out of hospital.
‘Delivery plan for recovering urgent and emergency services’ states an ambition to help patients to be seen more quickly in emergency departments, aiming for 76 percent of patients to be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours by March 2025, with future improvement to be seen in 2024/25.
As part of this, virtual wards are to be scaled up to help clinicians support more people in their own homes and ease pressure on hospitals.
DHSC notes that there is “growing evidence that [virtual wards] are a safe and efficient alternative to hospital care, particularly for frail patients” and adds that virtual wards have increased the number of patients that can be cared for in their own home by 7,000, a 50 percent increase since last summer.
The plan acknowledges that the NHS is “currently developing virtual wards at scale through investment in community provision for conditions including frailty, acute respiratory conditions and heart failure… Our ambition is to scale up capacity ahead of next winter to above 10,000 with a longer-term ambition of reaching 40-50 virtual wards per 100,000 people, which would mean more than 50,000 admissions a month.”
It continues: “As well as continuing to increase capacity, we need to increase utilisation of virtual wards so we make more of the capacity we already have. In the longer term as advances are made in ‘point of care’ diagnostics and remote monitoring, virtual wards will be a standard alternative to acute care in hospital across a range of conditions. We will work with Royal Colleges and clinicians to coproduce these pathways with patients.”
Delivery plans include:
- having more virtual wards, better utilised, across a broader range of conditions
- scaling up virtual ward capacity for frailty and acute respiratory infection, continuing to work with clinical communities to drive growth in virtual ward admissions
- increasing utilisation of virtual wards from around 65 percent to 80 percent in September 2023, with ICSs encouraged to develop local clinical and operational teams to ensure standardisation across their area to enable referrals, build engagement and benefit from economies of scale
- building on experience from GIRFT (Getting It Right First Time), NHS England will work with systems to establish a data-driven approach to peer review that supports implementation
- NHS England will support systems to implement new models of virtual wards in more clinical areas, with clinical advice on which areas are most appropriate for expansion currently under development
- supporting systems to build on the expansion of the Home Treatment teams for people with acute mental health needs, with focus on quality of provision and therapeutic offer which is underpinned by technology and data to better manage and plan care