Other top tips offered for setting up virtual wards included learning as you go along and learn from others’ mistakes
“Virtual wards give us the power to do what we want during what is a scary time for patients.” Dr Shelagh O’Riordan, professional adviser to the discharge and community services team at NHS England and NHS Improvement
The best way to implement virtual wards is to “start small,” NHS England and NHS Improvement’s director of community engagement has said.
Stephanie Sommerville was chairing a session entitled Delivering virtual wards: top tips for success at NHS ConfedExpo 2022 last week. The conference which took place in Liverpool, was jointly organised by NHS Confederation, NHS England and NHS Improvement, and brought together leaders from across the health and care profession.
Somerville told the audience that it was “possible to do things differently.” There are already 5,000 virtual wards a in operation around the country, and they are present in every integrated care system (ICS). “This is a two-year transformational programme and what’s really great to see is the collaboration. It’s super exciting what we’re able to do,” Somerville said.
As well as starting small, she told the audience, her main advice was to “create your metrics, put in your quality improvement plan and build from there”.
Dr Shelagh O’Riordan, a consultant community geriatrician at Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust and professional adviser to the discharge and community services team at NHS England and NHS Improvement, told the session: “Virtual wards give us the power to do what we want during what is a scary time for patients.” Her own top tip for implementation was to learn as you go along, do not go in too big and talk to others that have done it so that you can learn from their mistakes.
She described her role in implementing virtual wards as “the most fun job I’ve ever done. I feel for the very first time that this is the right thing to do.”
Discussing a visit to a patient’s home, O’Riordan mention that she’d enjoyed hanging a drip on a lampshade and resting her blood pressure machine on a piano, making use of these objects to provide the care that the patient needed – and demonstrating that a hospital setting is not always required.
The revelation that there are now 5,000 virtual wards in operation in England shows the pace with which this approach has taken hold. Potentially virtual ward are good news – they enable patients to remain in the comfort of their own home, they free up hospital beds and they ease the burden on clinical staff. But we must make sure that outcomes are monitored to demonstrate they have the intended impact: improved access to the right care, delivered more effectively with greater efficiency.