More questions than answers on virtual wards

With ‘virtual wards’ being the latest big idea for NHS England to square the circle of trying to expand capacity with reduced revenue and no capital, all 42 Integrated Care Systems are required to establish them ‘at pace’.  So we might expect to find a wealth of explicit guidance for local NHS management seeking to set them up.

This should include a clear definition of what virtual wards are for, what they can and cannot be expected to achieve, minimum investment required in terms of staff (with guidelines for the necessary skill mix of staff to ensure the virtual ward works efficiently) and equipment required for the target provision of 40-50 virtual beds per 100,000 population, with costings so that required resources can be calculated.

We might also expect this information to be available for the press and wider public, who may well have concerns as to the viability of virtual wards, to convince them the schemes are well thought out, based on a clear model, and safe for patients and staff.

According to NHS England’s web page, “Virtual wards allow patients to get the care they need at home safely and conveniently, rather than being in hospital.”

If this was being proposed with a guarantee of the necessary funding and staffing, with regular checks on outcomes, few would disagree that some patients would benefit from less intensive levels of care, assuming that home circumstances are suitable.

However a search through the same website for more information reveals that there is no discussion at all about assessing the home circumstances of the patients, and none of the concrete guidance we might expect: or if any such guidance does exist, it is behind a password barrier limiting the information to NHS staff.

Full article in The Lowdown, 1 September 2022