The NHS in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland is proud to announce that its local virtual wards programme has been crowned the winner of the Replicating Digital Best Practice category at the first ever HSJ Digital Awards 2023, recognising excellence in digitising, connecting, and transforming health and care.

A virtual ward is a team of professionals who look after a group of patients with similar health conditions, safely and conveniently at home rather than in hospital. Using a combination of remote monitoring by healthcare professionals and home visits, virtual wards can help prevent hospital admissions or allow for an earlier, supported discharge.

The award entry, called ‘From Pilots to Pioneering Partnerships’, is all about scaling up virtual wards, starting from within an individual organisation and building up to transform care right across the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Integrated Care System (ICS).

Many of the local virtual wards use a remote monitoring system called Clinitouch, created by technology partner Spirit Health. The app, which has been in place in Leicester since 2016, connects patients with their clinical teams remotely, helping to safely shift care from hospitals into homes. With published, proven results showing improved outcomes for people with COPD, heart failure and Covid-19, the technology has now been scaled up to deliver an ambitious virtual ward rollout across 12 digital pathways – including pneumonia and colorectal surgery.

The local virtual wards programme has been built on years of partnership and virtual ward pilot programmes. The current collaboration of organisations includes NHS Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, DHU Healthcare and LOROS.

Rachel Marsh, deputy medical director of University Hospital Leicester NHS Trust, who collected the award, said: “This award is a tribute to the hard work of colleagues across the whole of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland who have supported patients to have a great health care experience away from hospital.

“Virtual wards are about more than freeing up beds, they are about giving patients the best possible recovery experience and involving patients more actively in their health.

“We’re really proud of the work we have done and the recognition reinforces for us that we are making a positive change for the people we care for.”

Dr Noel O’Kelly, medical director and co-founder of Clinitouch, said: “Winning this award is truly fantastic. It reflects all the great work that has happened within LLR and Clinitouch to roll out the comprehensive virtual ward programme.

“From embedding a culture change through to adoption and evaluation, the collaboration between the clinical and strategic leaders at LLR and Clinitouch has been phenomenal. Building a strong partnership over the years has meant we can learn from previous successes and replicate them at scale to improve care for even more patients. A huge well done to all involved, and we look forward to continuing the great work in the future.”

People make a better recovery in their own surroundings, and staying in hospital longer than necessary can have a detrimental effect on their condition and their independence. A key strategy for the local NHS, known as home first, means that before a patient is admitted to hospital or transfers to the next phase in their treatment, care providers should always consider whether the patient can be treated at home rather than in hospital. Virtual wards represent one way of making that possible.

To can learn more about the local virtual wards programme by clicking here.