Advice for heart failure patients added to GIRFT’s virtual wards guidance

Practical advice to support the use of virtual wards to care for people with heart failure has now been added to guidance developed by Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT) and NHS England’s Virtual Ward programme.

The new section contains information on inclusion criteria and stages of the pathway for heart failure patients who chose to have their care provided at home, along with useful links. These include a link to NHS England’s recent guidance note outlining the minimum requirements for the care of people with heart failure on a virtual ward.

The guidance was originally shared in May 2023, focusing on frailty and services for those with acute respiratory infections. Now with the addition of heart failure advice, the guide pulls together summaries of existing virtual ward guidance in an easy-to-read, concise format, highlighting key advice and steps to help NHS teams get the most from virtual wards and, in doing so, improve patient choice and care.

Virtual wards, often known as Hospital at Home, are a safe and efficient alternative to bedded care. Using technology and face-to-face care, they offer patients who would otherwise be in hospital the choice of receiving the treatment they need in their own home, either preventing them from being admitted to hospital or allowing them to be discharged from hospital sooner.

An increase in the use of virtual wards was identified as a key ambition in NHS England’s Delivery plan for recovering urgent and emergency care services (January 2023), and more than 100,000 people in England a year are benefitting from being treated at home on a virtual ward.

Data relating to Hospital at Home suggests that patients are five times less likely to acquire an infection when treated on a virtual ward compared to an acute setting, and eight times less likely to experience functional decline. Virtual wards also serve to free up physical beds for other patients who require an in-patient admission.

The GIRFT/VW guidance is supported by and had input from eight professional organisations: Asthma + Lung UK; the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care; the Association of Respiratory Specialist Nurses; the British Thoracic Society; the British Geriatrics Society; the Primary Care Respiratory Society; the Royal College of Physicians; and the National Asthma and COPD Audit Programme.

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