NHS England is to develop a national recruitment and capability plan to support the roll out of virtual wards.
The plan is part of the blueprint for recovering urgent and emergency care, published yesterday.
The blueprint also includes a plan to integrate the NHS 111 service into the NHS App.
Its ambition on virtual wards is for the number of beds equivalent to increase to more than 10,000 ahead of next winter, up from the current estimate of 7,000. This is part of the effort to reduce the pressure on beds inside hospitals, either saving patients from having to go into hospital or enabling them to leave for home sooner.
There is also a longer term aim of making virtual wards a standard alternative to acute care in hospital for a range of conditions.
Teams and training
As part of this the NHS will develop multi-disciplinary teams with training in frailty and access to specialist and consultant oversight to deliver hospital level care at home. This will be accompanied by promoting work in virtual wards as a flexible option for staff, including returners, with the scope to work rotations and from home.
Along with this integrated care systems will be encouraged to increase their utilisation of virtual wards from around 65% to 80% by September.
The document points towards an early scaling up of the relevant capacity for frailty and respiratory infections, and adds that NHS England will work on a data driven approach to peer review to support the implementation.
In May of last year NHS England stated an ambition to increase the capacity of virtual wards to 40-50 beds per 100,000 population, equivalent to up to 24,000 in all, by the end of this year.
Other elements of the blueprint include running the 24/7 system control centres set up this winter year round, and the plan to integrate NHS 111 – the telephone helpline service for healthcare – into the NHS App. The latter step is part of the effort to reduce the need for patients to call 999 or go to an accident and emergency department.
The NHS App has over 30 million registered users.
Plans and preparations
Commenting on the overall plan, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “Today we are taking our plans and preparations even further – building on the extra beds, call handlers and 24/7 control centres – and focusing on new and existing technologies and innovations to transform the way people access our services and ensure they get the most appropriate care for their individual needs.
“Whether it is expanding our NHS 111 offer for families with young children, increasing virtual wards to provide hospital level care at home, or providing people with the latest data on A&E waits so they can compare their local services, every one of these initiatives uses the power of data and digital solutions to support patients to access the best care for them and to relieve pressure on frontline staff.”