NHS England has published the latest batch of information on virtual ward services in each integrated care board in England and at national level, with the data indicating that three ICBs are currently meeting the target for services to include 40-50 virtual ward beds per 100,000 adults by the end of this year.
Noting that the statistics are “classified as experimental”, NHSE shares data on capacity, occupancy percentage and capacity per 100,000 of the adult population.
Along with the ambition for 40-50 virtual ward beds per 100,000 people – reiterated in the recovering urgent and emergency services here – the winter resilience plan includes a target for virtual wards to maintain 80 percent occupancy rates over the winter period.
The newly released figures from September 2023 indicate that England has a total capacity of 10,421 virtual ward beds. This translates to a virtual ward capacity of 20.3 per 100,000 of the GP-registered population aged 16 or over. Of those virtual ward beds, September saw England average a 65.3 percent occupancy rate.
Included within the statistics are figures for each ICB. Here, we can see that Black Country ICB is currently exceeding the 40-50 capacity target with virtual ward capacity of 54.2 per 100,000 people. Northamptonshire ICB is also exceeding the target with capacity of 52. Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes ICB is meeting the target, with 40.9 virtual ward beds per 100,000 people.
So far, those ICBs are the only three to already meet the national target ahead of December, with capacity above 40. As of September, there were three ICBs with capacity between 30-40; 12 ICBs with a virtual ward capacity between 20-30 per 100,000 people; 22 ICBs with capacity between 10-20; and two ICBs with capacity between 0-10.
After those already meeting targets, the next ICBs with the highest virtual ward capacity according to the data are Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin ICB (37.7), Hertfordshire and West Essex (33.9) and Frimley (also 33.9).
The statistics do not take into account other factors, such as patient demographics or socio-economic elements, but they do include an estimated population size for each ICB. Black Country ICB, with the highest virtual ward capacity, is one of the 22 ICBs to cover a population of over one million adults registered with a GP. Northamptonshire ICB is estimated to cover 669,366 adults, and Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes ICB 879,500.
Occupancy rate for virtual wards varies among the three leading ICBs; Black Country reported a 57 percent rate in September; Northamptonshire reported 13.5 percent; and Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes 94.7 percent.
The stats show that 14 ICBs in total had an occupancy rate of over 80 percent, meeting NHSE’s ambitions for winter, including West Yorkshire; Coventry and Warwickshire; Herefordshire and Worcestershire; Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland; Suffolk and North East Essex; Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes; Cambridgeshire and Peterborough; Buckinghamshire, Oxford and Berkshire; Frimley; Kent and Medway; Hampshire and the Isle of Wight; Surrey Heartlands; Sussex; and Gloucestershire,
To view the figures in full, please click here.
In September, we covered NHSE’s guidance on point of care testing for virtual wards and urgent community response; catch up here; we also reported on the technology procurement and developing specifications from NHSE here.
In August, we shared a survey from The Health Foundation examining public attitudes to virtual wards, and July saw us explore how virtual wards take focus in the first NHS Impact programme along with improved data use and standardisation.
Earlier in the year, we hosted a panel discussion on virtual wards and the future of remote care, in which our panellists discussed the national perspective, approaches from an ICS, lessons learned and more.