I think that one of the best initiatives over the past couple of years has been the NHS Virtual Wards programme. I’ve also recently been rereading Tara Donnelly’s excellent blog “The hospital is brilliant but its not like being at home”. This is real chance to realise the role of healthcare services in giving people the best quality of life in the best environment possible.
A lot of the theory behind the initiative is explored in the work done by Lord Nigel Crisp, the former head of the NHS, whose book “Health is made at home, hospitals are for repairs” is a must read for anyone considering how we reform our healthcare services. In the book, he challenges people to set aside their assumptions and see the world differently, refocusing healthcare on allowing people to take control of their own health, a move which will contribute to creating a healthier society.
To get to the new world Lord Crisp envisages, there will have to be practical first steps; I believe that the virtual ward initiative is one of those. The numbers are initially quite small; aiming to have 2500 virtual beds in the community, but the potential is unlimited. Having engaged with NHS colleagues and private companies contributing to the virtual wards system, I have one major misgiving.
Currently this initiative is being seen as totally health based, with many of the virtual wards being based from hospital premises. However, the real potential will be realised when the virtual ward system becomes part of the community response and links in with community and care services. Some of the same companies which are working in care homes on remote monitoring are also working in the virtual ward environment and could be ideally placed to make the link between community-based and hospital-based care. My hunch is that consulting with social care providers will help realise the ultimate benefits for a health system which incorporates community and social care at its core to focus on people’s quality of life, rather than acute intervention.
In my role of encouraging innovation in care, I see digital transformation as the key to unlocking our potential as care providers to contribute to this better health and care system.
This is one of the subjects I hope to be addressing in the coming months when I will be chairing the panel, “ICSs: Getting a seat at the table: Links with social care, primary care and wider community services” at the Public Policy Projects ICS Roadshow on 13 September in Birmingham, 20 September in Bristol, 18 October in Manchester and 1 November in London. I also hope that it will be part of the Innovation in Care Conference I am directing for Laing Buisson in February 2023.
Daniel Casson is Care England’s Digital Development Adviser, part of the Digital Social Care Team and managing director of Casson Consulting.