Virtual wards trialled to end hospital bed blocking

This is the tech NHS bosses hope will slash record waiting lists and ease pressure on overstretched hospitals. So-called virtual wards, currently being trialled, involve patients monitoring their diseases at home and supplying readings to medics.

Each is handed a pack containing a thermometer, blood pressure unit and a monitor to check pulse rate and oxygen use.

The project is said to save the NHS around £470 per patient each day.

The move comes as bed blockers – those who are medically fit to leave hospital but face delays in paperwork – clog up space.

According to the NHS more than 14,000 patients who are fit enough to go home are kept in hospital due to a lack of social care. A typical daily stay on a ward costs £657. But a virtual stay costs only £187.

Nurse Jackie Hammond, in charge of the project at Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham, Kent, said her team of 12 can look after 30 patients virtually.

Jackie added: “The best thing Covid did for the NHS was to open peoples’ eyes to remote monitoring as well as virtual care. Not ­everyone needs hands-on care every day.

“The sky’s the limit. It has been proved that many patients recover more quickly in their own homes. In the hospital they might only walk from their bed to a chair. At home, they can walk to the kitchen to make a cup of tea or find out why the dog is barking.

“That rehabilitation element alone makes a lot of difference.”

In the past six months the team has looked after 356 patients. The NHS plans to free up space by treating up to 50,000 elderly and vulnerable patients in “virtual wards” at home.

Meanwhile, artificial intelligence is being used to predict likely missed appointments to “potentially save billions”.

Algorithms break down reasons why someone may not attend using factors like the weather, traffic and jobs. Appointments are then arranged for the most convenient time for patients. It is currently being piloted by Mid and South Essex NHS Trust.

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