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Health Secretary announces virtual wards expansion as part of new plan

By February 3, 2023No Comments

The Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, has published a new delivery plan for recovering urgent and emergency care services, the second of three plans to cut waiting times in the NHS.

The plan aims to reduce waiting times in urgent and emergency care through an increased focus on demand management before patients get to hospital and give greater support to enable patients to leave hospital more quickly through care at home or in the community, supported by a clinical safety net.

The most pertinent section for the diagnostics industry is the expansion of virtual wards. Currently, there are 7,000 virtual ward beds in the community, which represents a 50% increase since last summer. Another 3,000 ‘hospital at home’ beds will be created before next winter and the plan will include an ambition to see up to 50,000 people supported a month.

High-tech virtual wards currently support frail elderly patients or those with acute respiratory infections and cardiac conditions and have deemed very successful by health tsars. It provides the dual benefit of allowing patients to recover from the comfort of their own home, while easing pressure on hospital beds.

Other announcements included the scaling up of urgent community response teams and 5,000 more sustainable hospital beds backed by a £1 billion dedicated fund. The former work with 111 and 999 services to provide urgent care to people in their homes, avoiding the need for hospital admissions. Digital technology will also be utilised to enable ambulance crews to remotely connect with consultants when visiting patients to jointly assess the best pathway, from hospital admission to virtual ward monitoring.

Sarah McClinton, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said: “We recognise the importance of expanding and joining up health and care in people’s homes to stop them needing to go into hospital.”

Natalie Creaney