NNUH Virtual Ward helps patients recover at home

The NNUH Virtual Ward has launched to enable patients to continue their recovery from Covid-19 at home while being carefully monitored remotely.

The Virtual Ward builds on remote monitoring that is already in place and, in a phased roll out, will provide a safe and effective monitoring and follow-up service for up to 40 patients and the potential to help other patient groups.

Eligible patients must meet certain clinical criteria and can be admitted to the Virtual Ward directly from the Emergency Department or Acute Medical Unit (AMU) as well as from wards. They are contacted via daily phone or video calls – virtual ward rounds – and given advice and support including remote temperature, pulse, blood pressure and oxygen saturation levels. If necessary, they will visit hospital for treatments such as Dexamethasone and anticoagulants, and they are given contact numbers so they can seek advice should they need it.

Dr Mark Pasteur, Respiratory Consultant and Respiratory Clinical Lead for the service, said: “The psychological impact of Covid infection is enormous for patients, and many who have had prolonged hospital stays are extremely nervous about returning home. The opportunity for extended monitoring that the current health package offers can provide an extra level of reassurance for both the patient and the consultant referring into the Virtual Ward.”

Christopher Richardson, 64, from Norwich spent 10 days in hospital with Covid-19 at the end of January and was transferred to the Virtual Ward in early February.

After spending four days in critical care, he had recovered sufficiently to start walking around the ward area and felt ready to go home.  His partner supported him during his recovery and he had to wear a monitor 24/7 which constantly measured his blood pressure, temperature and oxygen saturation levels, in addition to a daily telephone call with the Virtual Ward Team to check on his progress.

Mr Richardson says he preferred to be at home and found the ward environment disorientating.  He says:  “I’d recommend the Virtual Ward to other patients.  The system was easy to set up and I just put on a new monitoring device each day.  The team were very helpful and we only had one hiccup when they rang me because my vital signs had dropped when, in fact, I’d fallen asleep.”

Barry Shephard, 37, who lives near Dereham, spent six weeks in hospital with Covid-19, including two weeks in the High Dependency Unit, during January and February.

When he was told about the Virtual Ward he thought it sounded like a good idea.  He said: “I’m very tech orientated and wanted to give it a go.  Although the service is just starting, I think it’s a game changer, giving patients peace of mind when they return home.

Barry is still recovering from Covid-19 with a severe cough which saw him readmitted to hospital a few days after he went home.  He said: “I’m pleased that my experiences have been used by the staff to develop this service and I can see that the Virtual Ward is going to be great for patients.”

Dr Ed Prosser-Snelling, NNUH Chief Clinical Information Officer, said:  “The Virtual Ward gives us an opportunity to think differently about in-patient care. Maintaining the highest standards of clinical safety must be at the forefront of our minds as we embark on this exciting project.  Beyond Covid, the service can be used for palliative care, oncology, hepatobiliary surgery patients and more. Thank you to all the doctors, nurses and allied health professionals who have come forward.”

Emily Wells, NNUH Chief Nursing Information Officer, added: “Ensuring a safe pathway to home for our patients is paramount and patients feel safe and secure knowing they are being monitored remotely and our team are available should they need assistance. We know from what patients tell us that they would prefer to recover in their own bed with loved ones near as long as they can feel safe and cared for. The virtual ward enables both.”