Virtual wards launched to allow people to recover at home

New ‘virtual wards’ have been launched in south west London to help patients recover in the comfort of their own home “with their own teabags and their own pillowcase”.

One service, provided by Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, gives people with respiratory or heart problems who meet certain clinical criteria safe specialist care using technology, which then frees up additional capacity at the hospital.

Consultant physiotherapist Salina Harvey-Porter, who leads the respiratory virtual ward at Kingston Hospital, said: “Our patients come into hospital and we make sure they are safe and we are now able to give them the option of going on to the virtual ward.

“They are finding that really liberating because they are not stuck in the hospital in a frightening and unfamiliar environment. They’re able to take control of their health and understand it better in the comfort of their own home with their own teabags and their own pillowcase.

“They get to speak to our team every day if they need to and they still get seen by specialist clinicians, so they are being looked after by the hospital in a safe, convenient, comfortable environment.”

So far, the initiative – which was initially successfully used to support Covid-19 patients – has enabled around 20 people to continue their recovery in their home’s familiar surroundings.

They are monitored regularly by hospital staff – contact numbers are provided as well – and are given different programmes of care, just like on a normal ward. In some cases, patients are provided with a wearable device to continuously monitor and report their vital signs while for others checks are done at set times.

The team at Kingston Hospital works closely with GPs, community nurses as well as other health professionals such as physiotherapists, occupational health practitioners, to ensure patients receive the care and support they need.

Salina added: “Just like in a hospital, the virtual ward team is made up of a multi-disciplinary team who care for the patient. These are doctors, nurses and physiotherapists.

“We don’t put a patient on to the virtual ward who is at a high-risk, they are not designed to replace emergency care, but to support low-risk patients to be cared for at home.

“There is absolutely no pressure for patients to go on to the virtual ward. We always make sure a patient knows how to use the monitoring kit and they can practice using the kit before they leave the hospital.”

Virtual ward physiotherapist Lizzie Jones said: “From the first day you go and see a patient at home, you notice there is such a dramatic change in the patient. When you see them in the hospital, they can look quite sad, like they have lost hope but when you get them home, you can see the colour change in their face and they are more active. You see a quick change in a short amount of time and it is really uplifting.”