New summary guide supports NHS ambition to increase the use of virtual wards

Practical guidance for clinicians and NHS managers aiming to maximise the use of virtual wards for the benefit of patients is now available, in a partnership between Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT) and NHS England’s Virtual Ward programme.

Making the most of virtual wards, including Hospital at Home 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.

Supported by eight professional organisations*, the GIRFT/Virtual Ward programme guidance summarises the key benefits and principles of virtual wards, as well as the practicalities for implementation. It focuses in particular on frailty services – where Hospital at Home (virtual wards) has been used to provide a safe alternative to hospital for patients living with frailty through community-based acute health and care delivery – and on services for those with acute respiratory infections.

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 have benefitted from being treated at home on a virtual ward in the past year.

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 guidance has had input from 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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