Building upon services to provide the right care for people through virtual wards
13 June 2022 | Sam Sherrington and Zoe Harris
In this blog, Sam Sherrington, National Deputy Director, Community Nursing at NHS England and NHS Improvement, and Zoe Harris, Senior Delivery Manager for the Digital Care Models Team at NHS England and NHS Improvement explore the important role that community nursing plays in getting virtual wards ‘right’ for the people we care for, and their families.
The dedication and commitment of community nurses around the country who worked incredibly hard during the COVID-19 pandemic has been really inspiring. We are immensely grateful for the work community nurses are already doing, using their expert skills to keep people well and to deliver highly skilled care for those most vulnerable in our communities.
As we have visited teams across the country, we have been impressed by the new and innovative approaches to deliver high quality care that improves the lives of the people that you support. One example of innovation is virtual wards, increasingly being rolled out across the country, and which allow people to get the care they need in the place they call home safely and conveniently, rather than being in hospital.
The Opportunities of Virtual Wards
Virtual wards combine the knowledge of multi-disciplinary healthcare professionals, with face-to-face visits in someone’s home, together with the use of digital technology. We know that most people want to be supported at home, rather than going into hospital. We also know that there are benefits to helping people to receive healthcare and care at home – there is evidence that if people stay too long in hospital, they can experience serious deconditioning that can be hard to recover from, and being at home can accelerate recovery and morale.
Providing this intensity of support within a virtual ward will help us to help those with conditions including acute respiratory infections and frailty to be treated and recover at home; avoid admission to hospital unless absolutely needed and intervene earlier to avoid people’s health deteriorating.
For example, through Zoe’s work in Leicestershire, the team embraced the opportunity to care for their patients in this new and innovative way. Feedback was very positive, and patients were reassured that they were still receiving care, and in a familiar environment, which helped with their recovery. Early data showed a reduction in re-admission rates for patients transferred to the virtual ward. You can hear more about their experiences in this Innovation Collaborative podcast or take a look at this case study to find out more.
Virtual wards combine the knowledge of multi-disciplinary healthcare professionals, with face-to-face visits in someone’s home, together with the use of digital technology.Sam Sherrington and Zoe Harris
Strengthening our Nursing Teams
Delivering more healthcare and care at home is not about creating silo working – it’s about building on the services that are already there, and strengthening our nursing teams, including district nurses. It is important that we build this into existing services, rather than setting these services up separately – and virtual ward models must be multi-professional and multi-agency to get the best from all perspectives to support people safely. As the people we support are at home, they all receive healthcare whilst in the community – and so virtual wards provide us with a new opportunity to come together across organisations to provide care in that space.
Our national team are working hard to get resources ready to support everyone to implement their local model. It was great to see care at home being prioritised by NHS England and NHS Improvement by including it in the NHS planning guidance for 2022/23 – an ambition to expand this service in England to 40-50 beds per 100,000 people by December 2023. In addition, guidance on establishing virtual wards, tech-enabled virtual wards, an e-learning package for staff and a NHS Futures network were also launched.
To bring this ambition to life, Integrated Care Systems have been asked to submit their virtual ward plans by 20 June 2022. We would encourage you to contact your regional Chief Nurse teams to get involved as these are developed. If you’re starting on your journey, take a look at others’ stories, and join our virtual wards online community. If you are already leading and providing healthcare and care through a virtual ward service, we are keen to hear about your experiences and what you’ve learnt – drop our team an email.
We hope that virtual wards provide us with an opportunity to strengthen how we work together with our colleagues across health and social care, improving our relationships and understanding, supplementing existing excellent services. We look forward to working with you to help bring more virtual wards to life and – enabling more people to receive the right care, in the right place.
Sam Sherrington and Zoe Harris
Sam Sherrington is National Deputy Director, Community Nursing at NHS England and NHS Improvement. She is a Registered Nurse, qualified Specialist Practitioner in the home, District Nurse and an Independent Nurse Prescriber. Sam was Head of Year of the Nurse and Midwife 2020. She is well published and has won a number of awards, most notably ‘The Eileen Steele Memorial Award for Caring’ and became a Queen’s Nurse in 2020.
Zoe Harris is a Senior Delivery Manager for the Digital Care Models Team at NHS England and NHS Improvement. She is a registered nurse who has worked in the NHS for 30 years in both community and hospital settings. Zoe previously worked at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust as a cardio-respiratory service lead, where she operationally led the set up their respiratory virtual ward.