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Lack of knowledge holding back virtual wards, research suggests

Lack of knowledge holding back virtual wards, research suggests
By Jess Hacker
1 August 2023

A lack of understanding of what virtual wards actually are ‘may be holding back’ public support, despite the fact UK patients are largely supportive of the measure, researchers have suggested.

According to a survey led by the Health Foundation, 45% of the UK public are supportive of virtual wards, with around a third saying they were not very or not at all supportive.

However, when asked if they would be happy to monitor their own health at home instead of in hospital – a similar scenario that avoided the term ‘virtual ward’ – support shot up to as many as four-in-five (78%), compared to just 13% rejecting the idea.

This indicated a lack of knowledge about virtual wards was ‘stymying support for the policy’, risking slowing the uptake for the model of care, the Health Foundation said.

NHS England is currently aiming to introduce more than 10,000 virtual ward beds by winter, including an announcement last month to expand the services to cover children’s care.

The Health Foundation’s research also found that:

  • Support for virtual wards varied on how much one knew about how the NHS uses technology, with those who knew a ‘great deal’ (69%) being more on-board that those who didn’t (24%)
  • Disabled people (50%), people with a carer (58%), and carers (55%) were more likely to support virtual wards then the population as a whole (45%)
  • Older people were more open to using virtual wards under the ‘right conditions’, with only 21% of those over 65 saying they would not want to use a virtual ward compared to 36% of 16 to 24 year olds.

Director of innovation and improvement at the Health Foundation, Dr Malte Gerhold, said: ‘It is encouraging to see support for virtual wards is higher among those more likely to require health care, such as older people, disabled people, and those with a carer. As virtual wards are rolled out, the NHS will need to consider the barriers that households can face and make sure they have the right support available.

‘In the face of unprecedented pressures, the NHS won’t be sustainable in future without greater use of new technologies, so ensuring new ways of delivering care have the backing of patients and the public will be critical if they are to become part of business-as-usual. As well as evaluating virtual wards to ensure they are delivering high-quality care in practice, policymakers need to engage more with the public about how to maximise the potential of better tech-enabled care at home.’

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