A local hospital group has expanded its urgent and emergency care virtual wards.

Frimley Health estimates that its patients will have shorter stays in hospital or avoid admission altogether following a significant expansion in the Trust’s virtual wards.

The expansion is due to additional funding being secured for ten new specialist staff which will increase capacity in the virtual wards to 60 patients at any one time - with an estimated 2000 patients expected to be treated in the next 12 months. 

A virtual ward means patients can be treated at home, but still receive hospital-level care.

It means people can remain at home safely and in familiar surroundings, helping speed up their recovery while freeing up hospital beds for patients who need them most.

Patients are reviewed daily by the clinical team and the ‘ward round’ may involve a home visit or take place through video technology.

The team of doctors and nurses can provide a range of tests and treatments, including blood tests, prescribing medication or administering fluids through an intravenous drip.

Many virtual wards use technology like apps, wearables and other medical devices enabling clinical staff to easily check in and monitor the person’s recovery.

Frimley Health was one of the first hospital Trusts in the country to introduce the urgent and emergency care virtual wards in November 2022 and in the last 12 months, the service saw 97 per cent of patients discharged having been successfully cared for in their own homes, with just 3 per cent needing to be admitted to a hospital bed.

There are four main groups of patients who can be managed on the virtual ward.

  • Those who need vital signs monitoring, for example, patients with high blood pressure or abnormal heartbeats.
  • Patients who need monitoring and tracking of symptoms who have been given medication and treatment plans. This could be acute headaches or other symptoms where face-to-face re-examination may not be required.
  • Patients who need blood tests repeated to monitor their acute condition.
  • Patients who are regularly admitted to the acute unit, the virtual wards team liaises with speciality teams to avoid them repeatedly having to come to the hospital.

Part of the expansion of the service includes funding for 60 sets of vital signs monitoring equipment which will be sent home with the patient to monitor their vital signs. These are fed back digitally to the UEC team who will have a real-time dashboard of all patient readings.

Sean Harding, Clinical Lead for Medical Same Day Emergency Care and Virtual Wards at Frimley Health said:  “We are delighted at the difference the service is making to the lives of many of our acute patients and the positive feedback we’ve had regarding their care.

"We are a small team but it’s been a real collaborative effort, working alongside the multi-disciplinary inpatient teams.

“The additional funding will allow us to expand significantly and by this time next year we will have capacity to look after the same number of UEC patients in their homes, as we do in the acute unit in one of our hospitals.” 

The team on the ward work closely with the emergency department, the ambulatory care and acute medical units to facilitate patients who are suitable for ‘at home’ care.

The service helps avoid unnecessary hospital admissions by identifying which patients can be reviewed safely at home. 

Caroline Draper, 66, from Taplow was transferred to the service last month following a short stay in Wexham Park Hospital.

She said: “It was so amazing not to have to stay in the hospital. I was able to go home to recover and get blood tests locally instead of having to go back to the hospital.

"It saves the patient a lot of time, particularly when you’re not feeling well. I had a call with a clinician, feeling confident they were looking after my needs and discussed everything I needed over the phone. It was absolutely brilliant.”