Patients are being prescribed smartphones and given tech training on the NHS in a bid to free up hospital beds.
NHS England has set a target of creating an additional 25,000 ‘beds’ by 2024 by expanding the use of ‘virtual rooms’ to treat more people at home.
The wards are designed for patients who need care but do not necessarily need to be in the hospital.
They involve monitoring patients remotely using mobile apps and devices that can monitor oxygen and blood pressure.
NHS bosses said patients in some pilot schemes were already being loaned mobile phones and given lessons to help them become tech-savvy. For people who don’t have access to Wi-Fi, Trusts provide them with devices that have access to 4G.
Dr Sarah Sibley, who runs virtual rooms in Merseyside, said one “barrier” was that many vulnerable people, particularly the elderly, do not have access to the right technology.
He added: ‘And we work in areas with a lot of social deprivation, people do not have access to technological devices or data to be able to upload information.’
Tara Donnelly, director of digital care models at NHS England, said other trusts have struck deals with companies like Vodafone to lend phones and tablets to patients.
Patients are prescribed smartphones as part of a campaign to increase “virtual wards” (stock)
Virtual wards have been around for years but rose to prominence during the pandemic, when patients were monitored from afar to preserve capacity and prevent hospital outbreaks.
A £160m NHS cash injection was used in 2021 to fund several non-Covid virtual ward trials, with the aim of freeing up more beds to remove the backlog of elective care.
Around 5,000 patients are now being treated in more than 50 NHS virtual wards across England.
Patients on the wards are monitored by consultants or GPs through daily phone calls or mobile app chats.
In some cases, patients will be given a wearable device to continuously monitor and report their vital signs.
NHS waiting list soars to ANOTHER record
The number of people awaiting routine hospital treatment in England has soared to another record, official figures show.
As the NHS crisis deepens, one in nine people (6.48 million) queued for elective operations such as hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery in April, up from a stagnant 6.36 million in March.
There are now 323,093 patients who have been waiting at least a year for their operation, 5.5 percent more.
Meanwhile, 12,735 have stayed on the list since before Covid hit Britain in early 2020, a quarter fewer.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has promised to reduce all waiting over a year to zero by 2025, using the 1.25 per cent National Insurance increase that will boost the health service by an additional £30bn over the next few years. three years.
Despite the Covid-induced backlog getting worse once again, ER and ambulance response times have actually improved slightly.
More than 19,000 patients attending emergency units were still forced to wait 12 hours or more for a bed, in conditions described by experts as “inhumane”. This is down by a fifth from the previous month, but ER doctors say the figures from England’s NHS are a “gross underrepresentation” of the real crisis.
Dr Sibley, who is also a respiratory consultant at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital, said “things worked very well during Covid from a technology perspective”.
But the technology had been more ‘difficult’ to implement for traditional diseases, often suffered by older or vulnerable people.
She added: ‘So we had to come up with a set of options, which included using an app on a device if they had one.
“If they didn’t have a device at the time, we could provide them with a smartphone to use during the time they were in the virtual room.
‘And we have phone options … and devices that are easier to use and have fewer options available.
“But one of the things we found was that some people don’t know how to use the technology.” She said these patients were also offered technical training.
Dr Sibley made the comments to health service leaders today at an NHS annual conference in Liverpool during a presentation called “Virtual Room Compliance: Top Tips for Success”.
The NHS has set a national target of treating 40 to 50 patients per 100,000 population “virtually” by 2024, which is equivalent to about 25,000 in all of England.
An extra of up to £450m will be available to support the creation of the rooms, according to NHS England operational planning guidance.
They are currently being used for people with respiratory infections, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and people who are frail.
People can be added to the virtual ward list when they leave the hospital to return home or can be “admitted” from the community.
Making the case for virtual wards, Ms Donnelly said: ‘If you are seriously ill, there is no better place to be than the hospital.
“But once you get past that acute and immediate need, home has huge advantages.
“You can sleep and rest more easily, you can move around effectively, eat the foods you want to eat, and have your support network and loved ones around you, all of which boost recovery and greatly support morale.”
There are some within the NHS who want to refer to them as “home hospitals” due to concerns that the “virtual” ward will have negative connotations.
Elliot Howard-Jones, head of the Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust, which runs virtual wards for heart and lung patients, said he prefers the term “hospital at home”.
He said the word virtual ‘degrades the absolute benefit’ of mentees and compared it to being offered ‘a virtual dime or a real dime’.
It comes amid an ongoing dispute over virtual appointments, especially with GPs.
Advocates have argued that remote consultations increase the risk that doctors will miss signs of serious illness.
They also say this is particularly true for some vulnerable patients, such as those with dementia, who may have difficulty communicating remotely.