Launched a year ago yesterday, virtual wards are playing a key role in keeping Sussex people out of hospital, and helping those who are admitted, to return home quicker and in-time for the festive period.
A virtual ward is a safe and effective alternative to NHS bedded care that supports patients, who would otherwise be in hospital, receive treatment they need in their own home.
Virtual ward patients receive consultant-led care through a combination of remote monitoring, virtual consultations, and face-to-face care, depending on the person’s needs, as part of their personalised care and support plan.
Patients can expect to receive multiple visits and provisions for 24-hour cover with the ability to respond to urgent visits, often enabled by technology.
Patients on virtual wards can receive urgent access to diagnostics (such as endoscopy, radiology, or cardiology) and may include bedside tests such as point of care blood tests.
Just like being on a regular ward in a hospital, virtual wards provide hospital services like access to intravenous fluids, therapy, and oxygen.
Sussex Health and care partners across Sussex, including clinicians and patients, have worked together to design virtual ward pathways, which will support the challenges of winter pressures to support patients.
More virtual ward beds are now available, with 171 beds now in place across Sussex, with 150 patients in those beds. This places Sussex as one of the highest occupancy rates across the country, at 88% occupancy – which is helping to ease pressure on hospitals across our area.
Since 12 December 2022, 6,170 patients have been treated on the virtual wards, including new speciality wards treating patients with acute frailty, heart failure, or respiratory conditions, who would otherwise have been in an acute hospital bed.
Approximately half of these patients avoided a hospital admission altogether by receiving their acute care at home, and the other half were enabled to be discharged home earlier from their hospital inpatient stay by continuing their treatment under the care of the virtual ward team.
Consultant Respiratory Physician at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Raymond Njafuh, said:
“We know that if people stay too long in hospital, they can experience serious reduction in muscle strength that affects their mobility and chances of living independently that can be hard to recover from.”
“Virtual wards help patients to have all the benefits of home, with the wraparound care of a dedicated clinical team reviewing them remotely, and face-to-face where needed.”
“Being away from familiar surroundings, hospital can be very disorienting and distressing to patients’ mental wellbeing. The home environment is generally the best place to accelerate recovery and morale, and it reduces the risk of infection of the patient and other hospital patients.”
“Patients appreciate being close to carers, loved ones and their pets. This can aid and accelerate recovery and general wellbeing.”
Head of Sussex Virtual Ward Programme, Pari Hutchinson, said:
“Virtual wards support people at the place they call home, providing safe care for appropriate patients who would otherwise be in hospital, either by preventing admissions or allowing for an earlier, supported discharge.”
“This is not only benefiting the health and care system by freeing-up capacity within acute hospitals but also benefiting patients’ outcomes and their experience.”
“Virtual Wards are a result of successful partnership working that encourages collaborative and individualised patient care, understanding and delivering what matters to the person.”
Area Director and Virtual Wards Lead, Chloe Rogers, from Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust said:
“Virtual Wards offer patients the opportunity to receive high quality, personalised care in their home. Our teams within the community work closely with our NHS partners to support patients to be treated in a place they are more comfortable and prevent admissions to hospital when it might not be the best place for them.”
Virtual wards is included in the immediate and long-term priorities set out by health and care partners in Sussex in the Improving Lives Together’ Shared Delivery Plan to bring the biggest benefit to local people, by improving the use of digital technology and information sharing to support patient care and treatment, and taking a joined-up community approach to health and care.
The number of virtual wards across Sussex has continued to increase which will help with current pressures facing the NHS. In Sussex, since establishment in mid-December 2022, 6,170 patients have been treated on the virtual wards, who would otherwise have been in an acute hospital bed.