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Why care at home is needed now to increase capacity



Despite recent progress in clearing the backlog, the NHS is still in crisis – and struggling to cope with higher-than-average patient numbers.

As a result, it’s experiencing an acute capacity crisis – but there is a solution.

Care at home is critical in freeing up capacity, ensuring the NHS can do what it does best – deliver life-changing health and care support for those who need it.

Anyone who has worked in healthcare long enough understands the concept of a hospital at home is nothing new, but virtual wards can deliver improved health outcomes at a lower cost.

In addition, many patients prefer the convenience of care at home, enabling them to rest and recuperate in familiar surroundings.

Virtual wards are essential to creating the capacity the NHS needs – but they can only achieve it by working with experienced and effective partners, like Luscii.

Capacity crisis

The NHS care crisis is a capacity one, with hospitals and other care settings unable to cope with the increasing numbers of patients.

High bed blocking remains a problem, with 19 in every 20 NHS beds occupied in January 2023.

Why the public searches for simple solutions, healthcare leaders understand the causes of the problem are complex.

Increased demand caused by an ageing population, historic underfunding, and staff shortages all plays a part in causing the capacity crisis.

While there are plans to increase the physical capacity of the NHS and solve staff shortages, these are long-term solutions.

In the short-term, the health service is investing in technology-enabled solutions, including virtual wards, to tackle the capacity crisis.

Will it work? A growing evidence base supports virtual wards, says NHS England.

Their figures suggest that a virtual ward of 50 beds could deliver the equivalent of 31 additional secondary care beds through more effective utilisation of staff.

We’re currently in the early stages. The NHS is investing a modest £450m to trial virtual wards. To put it in context, that’s approximately the cost of one new hospital.

The ambition is to establish 40-50 virtual ward beds per 100k population by December 2023.

The NHS appears to have learned from past mistakes and is working with partners to build virtual wards that deliver effective patient care.

Building a virtual ward

Like many innovations, virtual wards were a concept coined during the coronavirus crisis, providing an at-home care pathway for those with less acute symptoms.

While some patients and conditions will always require treatment in acute care settings, respiratory and frailty pathways offer the best application of this transformative technology.

Virtual wards are already having an impact on patient experience and capacity management.

For example, a virtual ward operated by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust (MTW) is helping the trust cope with increasing capacity.

A case study from the Royal Wolverhampton Trust provides a powerful way to showcase virtual wards’ impact on staff and patients.

Virtual wards are popular among politicians, and there’s enthusiasm among healthcare leaders – but how do stakeholders feel?

The British Geriatrics Society, for example, has reacted positively to the introduction of virtual wards, specifically seeing a case for frailty care pathways.

Other studies have established clear benefits for patients and healthcare providers but cautioned that carers could be stressed.

We will see the evidence base for virtual wards improve as they are rolled out across the NHS.

As more patients, clinicians, and carers gain experience with virtual wards, they will understand how to unlock its benefits.

Providing better pathways

Virtual wards are an exciting innovation with incredible potential, but their implementation will define their success or failure.

The technology required to provide consistent monitoring and constant communication is available, but critical to every successful virtual ward is a a robust care pathway.

The NHS isn’t alone in developing virtual wards; there is a range of partners, including Luscii.

Healthcare providers can access a bank of over 70 evidence-based digital health pathways with Luscii.

In the library, there are pathways for a range of conditions, including COPD, heart failure, Covid-19 and acute respiratory infection.

These purpose-built pathways are already helping trusts across England to implement virtual wards in their areas rapidly.

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