A new virtual wards service, which enables patients to receive treatment at home instead of in hospital, is being extended to support patients with a wider range of health conditions.

A collaborative of local organisations have worked together to put the service in place, including the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Integrated Care Board (LLR ICB), University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, DHU Healthcare and LOROS, together with technology providers Spirit Health and Dignio.

A virtual ward is a team of professionals working to manage a group of patients in the community. It allows patients to get the care they need at home, safely and conveniently, rather than being in hospital. Using a combination of remote monitoring by healthcare professionals and home visits, virtual wards can help prevent hospital admissions or allow for patients to go home earlier, whilst still receiving support.

Virtual wards are already in place for patients with the heart condition atrial fibrillation and the lung condition COPD, as well as those recovering from Covid. Today (Thursday 27 October) a virtual ward is opening for patients who have just had bowel surgery and, over the next two weeks, patients with asthma, heart failure, ambulatory jaundice, diabetes, community acquired pneumonia and blood disorders will also have access to a virtual ward, with more health conditions to follow.

By December it is hoped that 231 patients will be able to be looked after simultaneously across the virtual wards service. The use of remote monitoring technology allows patients to manage their condition at home with support from clinical teams who can act swiftly if the patient’s health deteriorates. The service increases hospital bed capacity and enables more patients to receive the timely treatment they need, from the comfort of their own homes.

Dr Gurnak Dosanjh, GP and ICB clinical lead for the virtual wards, said: “Virtual wards are all about putting the patient experience at the centre of healthcare. We have seen that being at home can have a positive impact on recovery and mental wellbeing. We also know that staying in hospital longer than necessary can have a detrimental effect on health and independence. Extending the virtual ward service will enable us to provide safe clinical care for more patients in the comfort of their own surroundings.

“This service is a prime example of our ‘home first’ approach to delivering care. Care providers should consider if there are ways that patients can be treated and cared for in their own home rather than in hospital. We want to make sure that people get the right care in the right place this winter.”

Rachna Vyas, chief operating officer for the LLR ICB, said: “The virtual wards service is a key part of our winter plans to ensure that people are only in hospital when they really need to be. Since December 2020 when the first virtual wards for Covid patients were established, 1780 bed days have been saved, which is the number of days where a patient is at home when they would otherwise have been in a hospital bed.

“We have received really positive feedback from patients too, who tell us that they really appreciate the opportunity to stay in their own home, they find the technology is very simple to use and they like the reassurance that their health is being monitored by the clinical team, so that they can receive timely support if necessary.”

Christine Di-Palma, who has been treated on the virtual ward for the lung condition COPD, says: “It’s given me peace of mind and security, knowing that someone is watching my numbers, and will phone me up if my numbers are not what they should be. There’s a respiratory nurse on the end of the phone and they know what you’re talking about, they understand. So they can gauge whether you need further help or not.”