Virtual ward discharge service saves more than 2,000 hospital bed days in south west London

Health officials said bed occupancy is the highest it has ever been (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)
Health officials said bed occupancy is the highest it has ever been (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)

A digital initiative to free up space at hospitals has helped the NHS save more than 2,000 hospital bed days in south west London.

The ‘Hospital at Home’ service provides hospital-level support for serious conditions, at a patient’s home.

It is run by the Wandsworth and Merton Hospital at Home team, who are part of Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust.

Since it launched in December 2021, it is has accepted more than 310 patients, saving an estimated 2, 134 hospital beds.

It was originally set up with a focus on supporting early discharge from hospital. The initiative, dubbed digital ward, involves a team of healthcare professionals, made up of doctors, nurses, and pharmacists.

Since then, they have developed skills to support more digitally enabled care, such as virtual assessments, heart rhythm testing and remote monitoring. The team has also expanded to include a wider range of professionals, such as a physiotherapist and occupational therapist.

Dr John Rochford, Divisional Medical Director at Central London Community Healthcare Trust, said the service allows patients with serious conditions a better chance at recovery.

He said: “Patients fare better in familiar surroundings, when they can sleep in their own bed, eat the food they like and have friends, family and pets around them whenever they wish. The service is already showing a significant impact, with many patients and their families embracing this new way of receiving care.”

Two-thirds (66 per cent) of the patients that have been seen are classified as severely frail, with 88 per cent of patients having four or more chronic conditions, including heart failure, COPD, asthma, and pneumonia.

Agatha Anyiwo, who lives in Wandsworth and received care from the Hospital at Home team, described it as a “life saver”, having come “at a time where I was severely in pain and experiencing mental challenges”.

She said: “The help in providing me with the right medication and home equipment relieved my distress and pain.”

Agatha Anyiwo. who received support from the service, said it was a “life saver”. (Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust)
Agatha Anyiwo. who received support from the service, said it was a “life saver”. (Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust)

The initiative, which is expected to save just under 200 hospital days each month, comes as the government announced up to £250 million to ease up pressure on the NHS by enabling those well enough to be discharged early.

Local areas will be allocated £200 million to buy thousands of extra beds in care homes and other settings, to reduce pressure on emergency services and speed up ambulance handovers.

An additional £50 million will go towards upgrading and expanding hospitals. This will include installing new ambulance hubs and facilities for patients about to be discharged.

Integrated care boards, which are organisations that arrange health services in each local area, will begin booking beds appropriate to patients’ needs.

The move, which adds on to the £500 million Adult Social Care Discharge Fund announced last month, will fund maximum stays of up to four weeks per patient until the end of March.