Delivering virtual wards has been described as the ‘right thing to do’ and support for delivering NHS England’s virtual wards programme is gaining traction across England’s integrated care systems. The national ambition is for ICSs to create 40-50 virtual wards per 100,000 population by December 2023 according NHS England’s 2022/23 planning guidance.
NHS England has published guidance to support ICS clinical leadership to create and develop their virtual ward service. The eight-page document, published on 8 February 2023, sets out some core clinical considerations to achieve a mature virtual ward offer. It explains how virtual wards should be developed with providers, co-produced with local people, and given knowledge about their population’s health need and local resources.
Issues of clinical governance, safeguarding and patient safety are covered in detail in the guidance ensuring that clinical safety remains at every level of the virtual ward programme. If for example, the virtual ward service is delivered by a provider collaborative, then the overall accountability for clinical governance would be with the lead provider.
The document should be read in conjunction with other guidance notes on virtual wards, including guidance for setting up technology-enabled virtual wards.
We know that the NHS has already had success in implementing virtual wards, including Hospital at Home services. Given the shortage of beds and the need to shift care out of acute hospitals, NHS England’s guidance is focused on supporting ICS leaders with the rollout of virtual wards.
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