Virtual Wards FAQ
A virtual ward is where a patient receives hospital standards of care in the comfort of their own home.
The NHS England definition is ‘a safe and efficient alternative to bedded hospital care that is enabled by technology’.
Virtual wards help patients who would otherwise be in hospital to receive the level of care, monitoring and treatment they need in the place they call home using, if appropriate, straightforward medical and technological devices. They prevent avoidable admissions into hospital and support early discharge out of hospital.
Virtual wards can improve the patient experience:
- Reassurance: patients know they’re being monitored on an ongoing basis.
- Convenience and choice: patients can receive care and treatment at home, where they often prefer to be, rather than in a clinical setting.
- Wellbeing: research shows that being at home – where patients can see friends, family and pets – is much better for their physical health, mental wellbeing and overall recovery rate.
We also know that if people stay too long in hospital, they can experience serious deconditioning with reduction in muscle strength that affects their mobility, which can be hard to recover from. The virtual ward approach enables patients to have all the benefits of home – such as privacy, their own bed, peace and quiet – with the wraparound care of a dedicated clinical team reviewing them remotely, and face-to-face when needed.
We know that the positive impact of this is that more patients maintain their independence and ability to remain in their own home and are less likely to need to be re-admitted to hospital.
Virtual wards can support alternatives to a hospital admission as well as the safe and earlier discharge of patients from hospital, enabling patients to be monitored until their treatment is complete. This can:
- Reduce hospital admissions and free up beds.
- Reduce the length of time a patient spends in hospital.
In addition, NHS staff tell us:
- People on virtual wards have access to a range of health and care professionals enabling more holistic and person-centred care.
- Virtual wards help develop a more collaborative culture.
- Professional development is actively promoted, and staff derive more professional satisfaction.
Integrated care systems (ICSs) are being asked to maximise the roll-out of virtual wards to deliver care for patients at home who would otherwise have to be treated in hospital, by enabling earlier supported discharge and providing alternatives to admission.
By December 2023, NHSE expects ICSs to achieve a national ambition of 40–50 virtual beds per 100,000 population. For Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin this equates to 250 virtual beds.
The NHS 2022/23 Priorities and Operational Planning Guidance reconfirmed the ongoing need to transform and build the capacity of community services to deliver more care at home and improve hospital discharge.
The latest guidance states that virtual wards should:
- Fully exploit remote monitoring technology and wider digital platforms to deliver effective and efficient care.
- Manage length of stay in virtual wards through establishing clear criteria for admission into and residing on services.
- Only be used for patients who would otherwise be admitted to an NHS acute hospital bed or to facilitate early discharge.
NHS organisations are commissioning approved technology suppliers via the Crown Commercial Service’s procurement system to provide digital platforms and technology to support virtual wards. Members of this framework must demonstrate that they meet required standards across clinical safety, data protection, cybersecurity, interoperability and accessibility.