Frequently Asked Questions

What is a virtual ward?

The agreed NHS England definition of a virtual ward is “a safe and efficient alternative to bedded care that is enabled by technology”. Virtual wards help patients who would otherwise be in hospital to receive the acute care, monitoring and treatment they need in their home. They prevent avoidable admissions into hospital and support early discharge out of hospital.

What is virtual care?

By contrast, the agreed NHSE definition for virtual care is that it provides enhanced healthcare at home but not as an alternative to NHS bedded care. These are for stable patients with long-term conditions, escalating patients who need admission, acute care consultations and preoperative care before and after operations.

What targets has NHS England set for virtual wards?

ICSs are being asked to maximise the rollout 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.

There are currently more than 53 virtual wards providing over 2,500 ‘beds’ nationwide. By December 2023, NHSE expects ICSs to have completed the comprehensive development of virtual wards towards a national ambition of 40–50 virtual beds per 100,000 population.

How are virtual wards being funded?

NHS England is financing the rollout of virtual wards via the Primary Care System Development Fund (SDF) covering £200m for FY22/23 and £250m for FY23/24.

The NHS in Scotland has centrally funded remote patient care under the Connect Me programme, which enables people to safely self-manage their health needs from home. Inhealthcare is proud to be providing the proven technology for these services.

Is there any more guidance around virtual wards?

Yes. 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 to admit and reside for services.

– only be used for patients who would otherwise be admitted to an NHS acute hospital bed or to facilitate early discharge.

Do tech providers need to be a member of a framework to support virtual wards?

NHS organisations are commissioning tech suppliers via the Crown Commercial Service’s Spark DPS to provide digital platforms and technology to support virtual wards.

Inhealthcare is a member of this framework and others including G-Cloud 12 and NHS Shared Business Services TECS, demonstrating that we meet required standards across clinical safety, data protection, cyber security, interoperability and accessibility.

What are the benefits of virtual wards and virtual care?

Virtual wards can support the safe and earlier discharge of patients from hospital enabling patients to be monitored until their treatment is complete. This can:

      – reduce delayed transfers of care

      – reduce hospital admissions and free up beds

      – reduce surgery time

In addition, remote monitoring and virtual care empower patients to better understand and manage their condition. This preventative care can free up appointments for more acute patients by reducing the burden on both GP practices and hospital clinicians.

What about benefits for the patient?

Remote patient monitoring can improve the patient experience:

– Reassurance: patients know they’re being monitored on an on-going basis.

– Convenience: patients can monitor their condition at home rather than in a clinical setting.

– Enabling patients to take a more active role in the management of their health can improve both their quality of life and health outcomes.

How can Inhealthcare help?

The Inhealthcare Toolkit allows NHS organisations to build, test and rollout digital health services at speed and low cost to address changing demands and cover new conditions. The underlying Inhealthcare Platform is registered as a Medical Device with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

We have recently developed a continuous monitoring service for virtual wards with NHS colleagues.  Patients wear a device that continuously monitors vital signs or patients take their readings at regular intervals. The data is shared with clinicians via a dashboard and alerts are generated if any readings fall out of range, enabling early intervention. As patient needs become more complex, the model changes to include more face-to-face care at home.