NHS England believes virtual wards could create much-needed capacity for the NHS, but progress against the national body’s 2022-2023 guidance in this area has been inconsistent. An HSJ roundtable, in association with Akeso and Masimo, explored the barriers to adoption and how they can be tackled
NHS England views the scaling-up of virtual wards as a crucial strategy for expanding hospital capacity and supporting patient recovery. As a result, NHS trusts have been set the ambitious target of having fully-developed virtual wards in place by the end of 2023 that provide a combined total of 40-50 virtual beds per 100,000 population.
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The scale of this target is considerable. In March, NHSE announced that 100,000 patients had been treated in virtual wards over the previous 12 months. It also reported that 340 virtual ward programmes are now operating across England, providing a combined total of 7,653 virtual beds. This leaves a deficit of some 16,347 beds that need to be created by the end of the year to meet NHSE’s national target.
Of course, creating virtual wards is only half of the puzzle: NHS trusts also have the job of making sure they are used. NHSE’s aim is for occupancy to be close to 80 per cent by the end of September 2023; however, internal figures seen by HSJ late last year suggested that just over half all virtual beds were occupied by patients.
The question, then, is not just how to implement virtual wards safely and effectively, but how to scale them into the wider NHS care ecosystem with the necessary buy-in from patients and clinical staff to ensure they are used. A recent HSJ roundtable, in association with Akeso and Masimo, examined the implementation of virtual wards in the NHS so far, the challenges trusts face, and what can be done to scale up virtual wards successfully.
- Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy, NHS Providers
- Jugdeep Dhesi, consultant geriatrician, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust and president-elect, British Geriatrics Society
- Gurnak Dosanjh, clinical lead for emergency and home first collaborative care, Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland ICB
- Mike Durkin, senior adviser on patient safety policy and leadership, Imperial College London
- Iain Goodhart, consultant in intensive care and anaesthesia, Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust
- Helen Hughes, chief executive, Patient Safety Learning
- Richard Lewis, visiting senior fellow, Nuffield Trust and independent consultant
- Stacey Orsat, president Europe, Africa, S/SE Asia, ANZ, Masimo
- Claire Read, contributor, HSJ (roundtable chair)
- Chris Robson, managing director, Akeso