On a Virtual Ward

Last week my husband, Ian, was bluelighted into Kingston Hospital. He was very unwell, and eventually – not immediately – they diagnosed Covid. He is clinically vulnerable because of a number of medical conditions, and we shielded carefully through full and partial lockdowns. Neither of us has had Covid up until now. Given the way it attacked him this time we could see why shielding had been essential for him before vaccines became available.

The A&E staff at the hospital were brilliant and he was kept for 48 hours in the Resus unit, but what I want to tell you about is what happened next. Ian was sent home on Saturday, with an oxygen supply and lots of pills, to a Virtual Ward. He was given a kit consisting of an internet Home Hub, a tablet, a wearable monitoring device that sits on his arm, a blood pressure device (to be used 4 times a day), a bespoke charger and an oximeter.

We were left on our own to set it up – even though I am tech savvy I did find that a bit daunting at the end of a tiring and stressful day. However the instructions were crystal clear and it all worked perfectly. His kit was made by Current Health but there are other brands in use.

Ian’s health data is being followed for 24 hours a day at the Monitoring Hub, which covers several hospitals. We have a phone number that we can call at any time for advice or help. They also call us when, for example, his monitoring device fell off and they weren’t getting readings. They asked me to have my mobile by the bed so they can wake me if any readings are a cause for concern during the night.

The Virtual Ward team at Kingston Hospital is on duty between 8am and 6pm each day. Every day they have a case conference on each of the patients in the Virtual Ward. Someone from the team – usually a nurse, but sometimes a doctor – phones each day to discuss Ian’s progress. Usually we switch to a video call on the tablet for that.

The pharmacist phoned one day to explain a change in medication, and the new prescription was delivered to the door by the team physiotherapist. She is the only medical practitioner we have met in person throughout the whole process and she seemed pleased to meet one of her patients face-to-face.

Our main point of contact is the Monitoring Hub who can put us in contact with the Virtual Ward team or can pass on messages. Outside the Virtual Ward hours the Monitoring Hub is able to contact a duty doctor or call an ambulance if needed.

This video was made a couple of years ago but explains how it works, using the same kit that Ian has.

For the right patients they offer a more comfortable, relaxing and perhaps safer environment than a hospital ward, and not surprisingly they are cheaper. But they don’t work for everyone. We heard of an elderly lady in another part of the country who was sent home alone to a Virtual Ward and hated it. In my husband’s case, he does have some disability as a result of a number of complex neurological and other conditions, so it only worked because I was able to clear my diary and spend the time with him. (In any case, I needed to test myself each day for Covid – fortunately still negative). However with experience hospitals are learning how they can be most effectively deployed.

Although Virtual Wards have been around for some years this was all new to us and to most of our friends. There has been some coverage in the press about Virtual Wards but generally they seem to be under the radar. And crucially our party doesn’t really seem to be aware of them.

At Autumn Conference last year we passed a Policy Motion: Transforming the Nation’s Health. This largely focusses on Public Health measures, but it missed an opportunity to highlight how Virtual Wards can reduce the pressures on hospital beds and ease bed blocking.

Our pre-manifesto: For a Fair Deal, doesn’t mention any solutions to the hospital backlog.

Daisy Cooper, our Health Spokesperson, did praise Virtual Wards on a visit to Addenbrookes Hospital, but I haven’t seen any policy initiatives around it yet.

So let’s assess the effectiveness of this initiative and encourage wider uptake across the UK.

PS. Ian is now off the oxygen and making good progress.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • It is good to see another lesson from CoViD being put into normal practice.

    Just like working from home, it isn’t for everyone as Mary notes, and requires some joined up health and Social care (eg. can we expect someone on their own to go shopping etc. during their confinement?) and social contact. Which, particularly in the case of people living alone, also brings up the issue of home access (ie. Key safes etc.) and access to internet (fixed or mobile).

    Thanks, Mary, for including a link to Current Health.

  • @Roland. To my surprise patients don’t need to have internet access at home. The kit includes an internet hub which presumably links into local hotspots. The hospital did ask questions about our home and the support we have, and I think they are very careful with people who live on their own.

    And I can now report that Ian has been discharged. We are waiting for them to come and pick up the kit and oxygen.

  • @Ian Sanderson – thank you.

  • @Mary,

    Thanks for the added information.

    When we distributed tablets ( iPads (*) ) to the service users of a local charity during the first lockdown, we supplied them with a prepaid 4G data SIM; and gave users the option to connect to their home WiFi or not. Fortunately, we didn’t have the issue of no 4G and no WiFi.

    (*) we used iPads, rather than other makes of tablets or PCs, because they were easier to lockdown and remotely manage; making them worthless to steal or be used outside of the use we intended.

    Good to hear Ian is recovering well.

  • Mohammed Waqas 2nd Mar '24 - 12:21pm

    All of our thoughts and prayers with your husband!

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