Successful Implementation of a Virtual Ward: Service Delivery, Technology and Lessons for the Future
The COVID-19 pandemic led to unprecedented demand on NHS infrastructure. Virtual wards (VW) were created in response, using technology to monitor patients remotely. Their implementation required new systems of staffing, escalation, risk management and information governance.
The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals Foundation Trust offered an example of a highly successful VW. It cared for 852 patients in its first year of operation, providing 24/7 nursing cover, supported by pharmacists and junior doctors, daily consultant-led ward rounds and virtual visits.
The remote care platform collected continuous vital sign observations and generated custom alarms. The care team triaged, then escalated to nurse-specialists or consultants as required. Patients reported increased confidence and relief at earlier discharge.
Staff highlighted the benefits of working from home, even if isolating or shielding. Challenges included developing awareness of the new service, overcoming concerns around increased workload and transitioning from emergency to long-term funding. The ward subsequently expanded from COVID-19 to nine other use cases.