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Virtual wards, improved data use and standardisation take focus in first NHS Impact programme

The first of the NHS Impact programmes to be launched as part of an “opportunity for systems and their providers to engage in a customised improvement programme” sees NHS England share an online ‘maturity matrix’ to enable organisations to conduct self-assessment of services; a programme-specific website providing resources and guidance; and virtual support for ‘Recovery Champions’.

The programme, follows the publication of the delivery plan for recovering urgent and emergency care at the start of the year, places emphasis on “10 high impact initiatives that evidence shows will enable systems to make significant progress in advance of winter in the delivery of improved iUEC performance”.

NHSE asks that systems select four of the 10 initiatives as priorities, at each place level. The online maturity matrix, available here, supports systems to self-assess their services in order to identify which four initiatives are best suited to them. Integrated care boards are asked to submit their self-assessments and highlight their four priorities by 12pm on 28 July.

Alongside the matrix, the programme provides a variety of resources to assist systems in driving improvements. The NHS Impact website will provide systems with access to all materials used throughout the programme, including support forums, webinars and ‘how to’ guides. NHSE notes that these resources will be “developed and delivered by our clinical multidisciplinary team and operational improvement experts, involving colleagues from regions, systems and providers as appropriate to ensure that these are co-produced.” The website includes information and links to real-time data that is available to support improvement activities and guidance on a range of topics including expanding care outside hospital and increasing workforce size and flexibility.

In addition, targeted assistance and support is to be provided for ‘Recovery Champions’ who will play a role in delivering improvements. The champions will be invited to attend virtual development sessions to develop their skills in areas such as leading change, learning from best practice, and measuring improvement.

One of the initiatives highlights the need to standardise and improve care across all virtual ward services with the ultimate aim of preventing admission and improving discharge processes. In the delivery plan, the Department of Health and Social Care shared an ambition to scale up virtual ward capacity along with a “need to increase utilisation of virtual wards so we make more of the capacity we already have. In the longer term as advances are made in ‘point of care’ diagnostics and remote monitoring, virtual wards will be a standard alternative to acute care in hospital across a range of conditions.”

A second initiative puts the spotlight on improved use of data for managing ongoing demand and care planning, including with intermediate care; another highlights the need to drive standardisation of urgent integrated care coordination to “facilitate whole system management patients into the right care setting, with the right clinician or team, at the right time.”

For more information and to view the ten initiatives in full, please click here.

Earlier in the year, HTN hosted a panel discussion on the future of virtual wards in which Sam Jackson, clinical services manager for the Virtual Health Hub at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, shared their experience of implementing and developing virtual wards. Sam highlighted how the trust set regular markers to ensure that they were hitting key performance indicators as their project progressed, stating: “I’d emphasise the importance of setting clear goals and targets and undertaking proper stakeholder engagement. Get feedback from patients and get them involved.” Catch up with the panel here.

Other projects designed to support improvements in urgent and emergency care include Lincolnshire ICB launching an app to provide citizens with live information on waiting times and queue numbers; University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust received the go-ahead for their new urgent and emergency care centre as part of the Future Hospitals programme (virtual taster covered by HTN here); and last summer’s announcement that 40 NHS trusts, 1,400 GP practices and 33 local authorities in London are collaborating through an urgent care planning platform, with the aim of connecting NHS providers and citizens with urgent care plans and support preferences.