Virtual wards for Wigan patients with heart failure to be expanded in national rollout
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Virtual wards – where patients remain at home and are monitored by medical staff using technology – were introduced by Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) in January 2022, building on the care provided remotely during the pandemic.
They proved to be a success and are being introduced by other NHS organisations around the country.
Now, thousands of people across England who have heart failure will be treated at home as the NHS expands its virtual wards.
Around 200,000 people a year are diagnosed with heart failure and people living with the long-term condition require significant care from NHS services. Around five per cent of all emergency hospital admissions in the UK are attributed to the condition.
Prof Sanjay Arya, WWL’s medical director, said: “A blueprint for providing life-saving heart failure treatment at home has been developed in the North West and is being delivered by the Liverpool heart failure virtual ward (jointly run by Liverpool University Hospitals NHS FT and Mersey Care NHS FT), who provide the telehealth service, one of the first two of its kind in England.
"New NHS clinical guidance asks more local health systems to expand their use of virtual wards for heart failure patients, who often spend a lot of time in hospital, and WWL intend to expand their current virtual ward offering for heart failure patients in response to the new NHS guidance in support of this.”
Dr Michael Gregory, medical director for NHS England – North West, said: “For many people, being treated in their own homes, with the support of their family and friends, is the best way to recover from an illness.
“The expansion of virtual wards, or hospital at home, means people can remain active and maintain their independence in their own home, while undergoing medical treatment, and in some cases can ease the pressure on our hospitals.
“It’s so encouraging that the NHS is expanding this innovative service to provide treatment for more conditions, just as we head into the winter months.”
Patients with heart failure are already being treated on WWL’s virtual ward, along with people with many other illnesses.
The ward has been growing due to its success and is set to get even larger.
Prof Arya said: “The WWL virtual ward consists of 100 ‘beds’ and provides a platform from which WWL’s clinical colleagues can observe patients’ vital signs via equipment such as heart rate and blood pressure monitors and a tablet for video check-ins; effectively managing patients in their own home to help maintain an effective flow of patients through the hospital.
"Since it was established, people with a variety of health conditions have been onboarded, including those with respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiology conditions such as heart failure or those recovering from a heart attack. The virtual ward has supported diabetes patients, patients following surgical procedures and patients preparing for surgery who need help optimising their health ahead of their procedure – and, it is hoped, that by March 2024 the virtual ward will grow from 100 beds to 150 beds."