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Expand virtual wards to cover heart failure, NHS England says

Expand virtual wards to cover heart failure, NHS England says
By Jess Hacker
25 October 2023

Integrated care boards (ICBs) should expand their virtual wards to include heart failure patients, new clinical guidance has asked.

NHS England has now pushed for ICBs to work with cardiac clinical networks to better understand their heart failure population needs and workforce competencies.

The expansion is set to build on the use of and learning from virtual wards for acute respiratory infection and frailty.

It comes after the NHS met its target last month to deliver 10,000 virtual ward beds, through which more than 240,000 patients treated successfully since April 2022.

There are currently a dozen heart failure virtual wards up and running, NHS England said.

According to the guidance, as a minimum requirement the new virtual wards should ensure people with heart failure have access to rapid specialist advice and guidance, including via video or telephone, where necessary.

ICBs must also make sure these digital wards feature a daily virtual review with the heart failure team or a multidisciplinary team, with robust processes for escalating concerns.

NHS England also advised an ICB’s approach support ‘seamless patient care’,  which may include:

  • Access to multimorbid specialist input
  • A single point of access
  • Ambulatory care
  • Same day emergency care
  • Rapid response teams,
  • Urgent community response
  • Virtual ward plans communicated across the local system.

NHS England’s national clinical director for heart disease Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: ‘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: ‘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.’

Around 200,000 people a year are diagnosed with heart failure, with people living with the condition who require significant NHS support making up 5% of all emergency hospital admissions in the UK attributed to the condition.

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