How technology is helping to boost bed space in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire’s hospitals this winter
New state-of-the-art technology will see some patients across Nottingham and Nottinghamshire with respiratory infections, a flare up of a long-term lung condition or recovering from some types of surgery, monitored from the comfort of their own home rather than in hospital.
Patients who are eligible will be referred to a ‘virtual ward’ – a safe and efficient alternative to an NHS hospital bed and means patients can be treated in the place they call home.
Virtual wards can make us of technology to support patients who would otherwise be in hospital, to receive the care, monitoring and support they need in the place they call home, which frees up hospital beds for patients who are most in need of acute care.
Patients who are suitable to be referred to a virtual ward will usually have a health concern that needs regular monitoring and on-going treatment, such as an acute respiratory infection, a chronic lung condition or, if at Nottingham University Hospitals, a postoperative wound care and intravenous antibiotics that they would usually receive in hospital. However, with the right care and support, these patients can now receive the care they need at home safely and conveniently.
At Sherwood Forest Hospitals and Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust, they have launched a respiratory virtual ward for patients which has already treated its first patient – 56-year old Dean Brown, from Huthwaite, who has been receiving treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.
Dean said: “I went on holiday and ended up being taken into hospital by ambulance after I came back. I’d used up all my medication and became really unwell after having an asthma attack on the Saturday morning. I knew I needed to be in hospital, but I don’t like being in there any longer than I need to as I struggle to sleep.
“The staff recommended virtual wards as an option for me to carry on receiving the treatment I need at home and I jumped at the chance. The staff come out to visit me every day, they call me on weekends and have reassured me that they’ll be there if I need any support urgently.
“It’s a fantastic idea that I hope will keep people out of hospital – and it means I can continue my recovery and get some sleep at home around all my home comforts! I’d definitely recommend it.”
Justin Wyatt, Virtual Ward Lead for Sherwood Forest Hospitals said: “After much hard work, preparation, and working together with our health and care partners, we are really excited to have launched the virtual ward service for patients with respiratory infections or a flare up of a long-term respiratory condition. The decision to launch a respiratory service is based on our learning from Covid-19 virtual wards and will help to support services during the expected rise in respiratory infections over this coming winter. As the service develops it is expected that other virtual wards will become available offering a wide range of virtual ward services to our patients.”
Becky Sutton, Nottinghamshire Healthcare’s Executive Director of Community Health Services, said: “We know that when patients are treated in their own homes it can have a hugely positive impact on their health and wellbeing and that is why we are delighted to be rolling out a virtual ward to support patients with respiratory needs. The virtual ward at Nottinghamshire Healthcare will support patients with respiratory conditions to be discharged from hospital and continue to receive the same quality of care in the place they call home.
“Alongside the introduction of the respiratory virtual ward, we are working with our partners to provide virtual wards for frailty, so this is a really exciting time and gives us a real opportunity to work together and deliver improved care for our patients in an environment which will benefit their health and wellbeing.”
Patients in virtual wards will be supported and monitored on a daily basis using remote monitoring apps, utilising technology platforms and using medical devices such as pulse oximeters, which record vital health data about blood oxygen saturation and heart rates. Patients can also receive face-to-face care from teams based in the community.
Nottingham CityCare will shortly be launching their respiratory virtual ward. Helen Woodiwiss, Director of Clinical Operations, Digital and Estates at Nottingham CityCare said: “The launch of respiratory virtual wards in Nottingham is an important milestone in keeping patients well in the place they call home. Our community virtual wards team will visit patients to ensure they are regularly monitored remotely and in-person and are able to ask questions and provide assurances about managing their condition. This is a very positive example of how we are working collaboratively in Nottingham’s healthcare system to provide true integrated care for our patients.”
The virtual ward currently running at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust is a surgical virtual ward, which cares for patients recovering from surgery in the comfort of their own home. Dr Keith Girling, Medical Director at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, said: “We anticipate pressures on our hospitals over winter to heighten demand through our emergency department and also on our bed occupancy. Virtual wards offer us an opportunity to reduce delays to timely patient care by allowing us to release suitable patients to their own home for ongoing care and monitoring. This method will not be suitable for every patient and patients will be fully assessed before they are put onto the virtual ward, but it could really make a difference for those who are eligible. We know patients recover more quickly in their own environment and we are really excited about the chance to support patients returning home whilst remaining under our care.”
Dr Joseph John, Medical Director and Consultant at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals, said: “It is crucial that the NHS moves with the times, and makes the very best use of technology to improve the care we provide for our patients.
“Not everyone requires a hospital stay – our virtual wards will ensure that we can continue to monitor an individual’s health within their home, while at the same time making the very best use of the space we have, particularly during the busier winter months.”
You can find out more about virtual wards in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire on the NHS Nottingham and Nottinghamshire website here.