NHSE publishes guidance for ICSs to introduce virtual ward model

NHS England and NHS Improvement have published guidance to support all Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) with virtual ward programmes.

The guidance, entitled “supporting information for ICS leads: enablers for success: virtual wards including hospital at home” comes in support of NHSEI asking all ICSs to extend or introduce the virtual ward model. The document aims to support strategic and financial decisions, and the planning and implementation of the model.

Part of a two-year funded transformation programme to support the development of virtual wards, the ask is to deliver virtual ward capacity equivalent to 40 to 50 virtual ward ‘beds’ per 100,000 population – equivalent to the delivery of up to 24,000 virtual ward beds – by December 2023. NHSEI adds that a minimum expectation is that the model is introduced for at least two pathways.

ICSs are also being asked to develop and submit delivery plans up to April 2024, including detail on financial, workforce, capacity and expenditure. To support this a ‘Bed Benefit Tool’ has been made available on FutureNHS.

A suggestion has been outlined in the guidance for a large portion of the available funding to be used on workforce and technology.

Reporting requirements have also being introduced from last month, where lead providers of virtual wards will submit data relating to “usage, type and configuration of the virtual ward and data on patients’ ethnicity, gender and age” every two weeks.

Then from July 2022, assurance and reporting processes will be set-up to provide “national visibility”.

In the guidance there are number of recommendations highlighted for the virtual ward model, which include:

  • Appropriate clinical leadership and governance in place (mandatory requirement)
  • A competency-based approach, avoiding assumptions about professional boundaries and early investment in workforce development and training
  • Integrated working across health and social care
  • Appropriate use of technology with training and supervision
  • An incremental approach to improvement and growth

The guidance continues to highlight green considerations, equality and health inequalities, working with the independent sector, staffing models, and case studies.

To read the full guidance, please click here.