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Heart failure to be covered by virtual wards, NHS England says

Virtual wards should be expanded to include heart failure patients to help reduce recovery times and ease pressure on hospital beds during the winter season, new NHS clinical guidance has outlined.

NHS England has now pushed for integrated care boards to work with cardiac clinical networks to better understand their heart failure population needs and workforce competencies.

The expansion is set to build on the use of and learning from virtual wards for acute respiratory infection and frailty.

It comes after the NHS met its target last month to deliver 10,000 virtual ward beds, through which more than 240,000 patients treated successfully since April 2022.

There are currently a dozen heart failure virtual wards up and running, NHS England said. This includes Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, which together have supported more than 500 people on virtual wards for heart failure.

According to the guidance, as a minimum requirement the new virtual wards should ensure people with heart failure have access to rapid specialist advice and guidance, including via video or telephone, where necessary.

ICBs must also make sure these digital wards feature a daily virtual review with the heart failure team or a multidisciplinary team, with robust processes for escalating concerns.

NHS England also advised an ICB’s approach support ‘seamless patient care’, which may include:

  • Access to multimorbidity specialist input
  • A single point of access
  • Ambulatory care
  • Same day emergency care
  • Rapid response teams
  • Urgent community response
  • Virtual ward plans communicated across the local system.

NHS England’s national clinical director for heart disease Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: ‘More than 240,000 patients have already benefitted from virtual wards, and now we are growing this service to patients with heart failure.

‘This is a positive development in how the NHS can treat patients, and testament to the hard work of our staff after hitting our target of 10,000 virtual ward beds last month.

‘The expansion has been implemented at a key time just before winter, when there will be a lot more pressure on our hospitals and will free up beds for those who need them the most.’

Around 200,000 people a year are diagnosed with heart failure and often require significant NHS support, including long or frequent hospital stays. Some 5% of all emergency hospital admissions in the UK are attributed to the condition.

A version of this story was originally published by our sister publication Healthcare Leader.