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NHS England calls for wider use of virtual wards


Mark Say Managing Editor

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NHS England has written to local hospitals and health systems urging them to make more use of virtual wards.

It has updated its Urgent and Emergency Care Framework to encourage them to refer more people directly to being monitored and receiving treatment in their own homes, with the aim of reducing admissions into accident and emergency departments and freeing up hospital beds for the sickest patients.

The move follows the launch in January of a capability plan for rolling out virtual wards and the setting of a target to have the equivalent of more than 10,000 beds in place by next winter.

NHS England said more people suffering from respiratory conditions or heart failure are set be treated through an intravenous drip or a nebuliser – a machine that turns liquid medicine into a mist that can be easily inhaled – from home, instead of needing to be cared for in hospital.

In addition, more people living with frailty will be supported through the virtual ward programme. 

Avoiding admissions

It said it has evaluation the potential of the approach to find that one non-elective hospital admission could be avoided for every 2.5 virtual ward admissions. Also, if the South East virtual ward model is scaled up across England, 178,000 admissions could be avoided over the next two years.

The updated framework also includes frailty assessments at the A&E front door to identify patients over 65 who may need access to specialist clinicians and clinical assessments of 111 and 999 calls to direct patients to the best service for them.

NHS England will also provide funding incentives focused on ensuring patients do not have to wait more than 12 hours in A&E.

NHS national director for urgent and emergency care, Sarah-Jane Marsh, said: “It is clear there is still much further to go and with the rollout of ambitious new measures like more direct referrals to same day emergency care, more ‘step-up’ virtual wards, and targeted support for patients who regularly attend A&E, we are confident this plan can deliver further improvements for patients and continue to bring down the longest waits for care.”

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