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Virtual NHS wards to treat heart failure patients at home

In a bid to provide patients with more independence, thousands will be treated from home as the NHS expands its world-leading virtual ward scheme.

In January 2023, virtual wards were introduced as part of NHS England’s Delivery plan for recovering urgent and emergency services. In their latest development, they are helping to treat people suffering with heart failure at home.

pink and white hearts illustration

New NHS clinical guidance, which was published this week, is asking local healthcare systems to expand their use of virtual wards to include heart failure patients who often spend a lot of time in hospital. This is so patients can remain active and maintain their independence.

Around 200,000 people a year are diagnosed with heart failure, and people living with the long-term condition requiring significant input from NHS services make up 5% of all emergency hospital admissions in the UK.

News of virtual beds extending to treat people with heart failure comes after the NHS hit it’s target of delivering 10,000 virtual ward beds last month, with more than 240,000 patients treated successfully since April 2022.

The innovative hospital at home service already provides treatment for respiratory issues and frailty and has been shown to reduce recovery times, as well as easing pressures on hospital beds and staff.

One example of somebody who has been benefitting from the at-home service is Colette Melia, 66, who had a fluid overload due to damage to her heart and also has Crohn’s disease which made it difficult to treat her acute heart failure.

Colette was treated on an acute heart failure virtual ward and the team reviewed her every day over the telephone or by video call. Technology also helped health experts access ECG readings and assisted Colette with digitally recording any symptoms she may have experienced.

Following the experience, Colette said it was almost like ‘having a doctor on tap’ and said treatment from a virtual ward is a ‘really personalised service’.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: ‘More than 240,000 patients have already benefitted from virtual wards, and now we are growing this service to patients with heart failure.

‘This is a positive development in how the NHS can treat patients, and testament to the hard work of our staff after hitting our target of 10,000 virtual ward beds last month.

‘The expansion has been implemented at a key time just before winter, when there will be a lot more pressure on our hospitals and will free up beds for those who need them the most.’

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘We have already rolled out 10,000 hospital-at-home places which have benefitted thousands of patients across the country, and the expansion of these state of the art beds will allow people to get the specialist care they need from the comfort of familiar surroundings.

‘Patients suffering from heart failure will now be able to recover in the comfort of their own homes with the remote support of clinical staff.

‘This approach will help speed up recovery times for patients and cut down on unnecessary trips to hospital, easing pressure on the NHS this winter.’

Image: Rinck Content Studio

More on this topic:

French study shows hot temperatures cause heart failure to worsen

Remote heart alert system saves heart failure patients from hospitalisation

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