How ‘virtual wards’ may only be staffed 12 hours a day leaving health chiefs worried they could ‘inadvertently create extra demand’

  • ‘Virtual wards’ give patients devices to monitor vital signs like blood pressure
  • But gaps in staffing mean patients will have to call 111 or 999 when unmonitored 

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‘Virtual wards’ designed to relieve pressure on the NHS may backfire as some are only staffed 12 hours a day, a senior doctor has warned.

The system works by giving patients devices to monitor vital signs like blood pressure at home, with readings sent to their doctors via a smartphone app, freeing up hospital beds.

But some of the ‘wards’ are only staffed 12 hours a day, with patients told to call 111 or 999 for help at other times, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

NHS England says the wards must be staffed for a minimum of between 8am and 8pm, seven days a week – but outside these hours cover must be determined on a local basis.

Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said AE doctors were concerned that the closure of some virtual wards at 8pm meant ‘someone’s left holding the baby’.

¿Virtual wards¿ designed to relieve pressure on the NHS may backfire as some are only staffed 12 hours a day (file image) ¿Virtual wards¿ designed to relieve pressure on the NHS may backfire as some are only staffed 12 hours a day (file image)

‘Virtual wards’ designed to relieve pressure on the NHS may backfire as some are only staffed 12 hours a day (file image)

People queue for the Emergency Department (AE) at St Thomas' hospital in London, Britain on January 2 People queue for the Emergency Department (AE) at St Thomas' hospital in London, Britain on January 2

People queue for the Emergency Department (AE) at St Thomas’ hospital in London, Britain on January 2

He added: ‘People will seek help, they may dial NHS 111… and we know that there are problems with inadequate clinical support to NHS 111 and this results in people being sent ambulances, or to emergency departments, or to out-of-hours GPs, when perhaps they didn’t need it.’

‘So we are worried it may create, inadvertently, extra health demand.’

Rishi Sunak reportedly plans to expand the service, aiming to have 50,000 people supported by ‘virtual wards’ each month.

Dr Boyle said virtual wards must not be seen as a ‘silver bullet’, adding: ‘We’re very wary of virtual ward beds being used to say that there are increased beds within hospitals because that’s simply not true.’

An NHS spokesman said: ‘Every local health system in England has a plan to ensure that virtual wards are rolled out safely and provides out-of-hours services or night nursing teams.’

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