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Virtual wards are supporting people across Lancashire and South Cumbria to remain in their homes this winter

6 February 2023

  • Working in partnership

The roll out of virtual ward (VW) services across Lancashire and South Cumbria is one of a number of key developments and sees a range of local health and care providers work collaboratively.

This innovative approach is delivering high quality care for people in the comfort of their own home –which is often where they would rather be. Virtual wards provide hospital-level care and remote monitoring for patients who would otherwise be in hospital, either by preventing admissions to hospital or allowing them to return home sooner to continue their treatment at home.

The virtual wards programme is supported by a growing and developing evidence base that demonstrates benefits for patients, staff and systems. For example, there is good evidence that patients on frailty virtual wards have better outcomes than those treated in hospital, often because they retain more independence.

Hospital Trusts in Lancashire and South Cumbria are working with partner organisations and have plans in place to mobilise virtual ward services at quickly, with virtual wards having the potential to create much needed additional bed capacity and keep as many people at home as possible. The programme was launched in August 2022 and the number of beds available across Lancashire and South Cumbria offering hospital level care in patients' homes has steadily increased.

We are focusing on conditions relating to frailty whereby people are in a crisis that requires acute level care, treatment or monitoring for a specific need, and Acute Respiratory Infections such as exacerbation of COPD and pneumonia.

Patients are referred from a variety of clinical teams including Emergency Departments, GPs, community services and hospital wards.

During their stay on the VW, patients are under the overall care of a hospital doctor but can receive care at home from a range of professionals including nursing, therapy, pharmacy and third sector professionals. This includes daily senior clinical reviews and advice using cutting-edge monitoring devices including smartphones with specifically designed applications and other technology.

We are also commencing the roll out of remote technology for monitoring using an app called Docobo. This will enable observations such as oxygen saturations, blood pressure and temperature to be taken regularly and uploaded via a device such as a mobile telephone or tablet, with these observations monitored by clinicians within a central hub. Healthcare professionals may also visit a patient’s home to provide face-to-face care. These types of virtual ward are sometimes known as ‘Hospital at Home.’

Feedback from patients and staff about this new service is positive, and for some patients and their families, receiving hospital level care at home is preferrable to admission to a hospital bed.

Mr & Mrs B shared their experience of a virtual ward run by University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust (UHMBT) after Mrs B broke four toes in a fall at home in

July. After assessment at the hospital’s Acute Frailty Unit, she was referred to the South Lakes Rapid Response Team and sent home as a patient on the team’s virtual ward.

Nurses working with the virtual ward meet with a consultant geriatrician daily, offering an enhanced level of care for patients who are able to be cared for safely at home.

Mr B, 81, said: “A nurse from the Virtual Ward came to visit Mrs B every day. The nurses were excellent – they were very pleasant and caring and made us feel very comfortable.

They have been absolutely superb.

“When Mrs B has been in hospital overnight in the past it’s been very, very stressful, but when she’s at home she’s relaxed and comfortable. The virtual ward works. I wholeheartedly agree with this kind of home care. It’s the best thing that could have happened to us. I've got my wife back, and I can’t thank them enough for that.”

Bridget Lees, Executive Chief Nurse, UHMBT, said: “Our Virtual Wards mean we can provide a higher level of care for patients while also offering them the comfort and stability of remaining in their own home.

“The virtual ward system also helps to prioritise hospital beds for people who need them.

“I am pleased to hear people have had a good experience with our virtual ward and thank our clinical teams for making a success of this innovative way of working.”